Amnesty: An Electoral Disaster
Increased immigration and amnesty will hurt the Republican party, not save it.


John O’Sullivan

My recent column on amnesty and the GOP elicited a number of very passionate comments. I will try to deal with some of them in a separate posting, but one common criticism deserves an immediate response. This was that I had done a serious wrong in focusing on whether amnesty would be bad for Republican electoral prospects, when the right question is whether or not it would be good for America.

The criticism is fair but misdirected. The main focus of my writings on immigration has long been on devising the policy that is best for America and Americans, while taking into account the interests of immigrants, too. (After all, I am one.) Inviting large numbers of people into the country and then treating them harshly, as mere factors of production, is the immigration policy favored by some business advocates of “comprehensive immigration reform.” It is rejected by almost all conservative immigration reformers, notably Mark Krikorian of this parish, as both inhumane and unrealistic.

Indeed, even in the column criticized I began by pointing out that we should be more concerned about good public policy than about electoral consequences (though the two are intertwined) when debating both amnesty and our broader immigration policy. But since the election, both Republican leaders and establishment Big Feet commentators have been discussing almost solely the political impacts of these policies, rather than their policy implications. Worse, they have assessed the former incorrectly, assuming that opposition to amnesty is an electoral albatross around the GOP’s neck without either examining the evidence or even thinking seriously about it.

Unless that belief is subjected to rational criticism (and shown to be either greatly exaggerated or entirely false), there will be no discussion of immigration policy worthy of the name. Instead, in an atmosphere of panicked compassioneering, the GOP will jump off the policy cliff reciting “Give me your poor, your huddled masses  . . . ”

So, for the remainder of this column, the electoral impact of immigration will take center-stage. Let me recap the story so far: In the last column we saw that the single most direct, primary, and unavoidable effect of declaring an amnesty for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already in the U.S. would be a net 2.2 million extra votes for the Democrats. There might be more than 2.2 million votes — the assumptions underlying these estimates were deliberately cautious. Realistically, however, there could not possibly be fewer. The arithmetic is clear and unforgiving.

So the test that any advocate of amnesty (however qualified) has to pass is to demonstrate how to get at least 2.2 million votes for the GOP — plus one additional vote — in order to offset the primary electoral effect of amnesty. Can it be done? And if so, how?

The constituency from which such votes might theoretically be drawn is existing U.S. Hispanic citizens, whether U.S.-born or naturalized immigrants. That seems to be universally accepted. Republican leaders and consultants believe that these voters can be won over because they are “natural Republicans.” When asked to flesh out this claim, they point out that they are hard-working, entrepreneurial, and hold conservative moral views. What deters these natural Republicans from going so far as actually to vote Republican, it is argued (or, more frequently, intuited), is their distrust of a party that might deport their Hispanic relatives and friends and that is therefore seen as generally unwelcoming to immigrants. Remove that, and the natural Republicans will come home.

Alas, this cargo of day dreams and wishful thinking is enough to sink the Good Ship Lollipop.