Chris Christie’s success with Hispanic voters (he got 51 percent) is being touted as showing the way forward for the Republican party. In a way it does.
Of course, a good part of his success with them, and with all other voter groups, relates to the specific circumstances: His successful handling of the Hurricaine Sandy aftermath, his no-BS style, so unusual among politicians, plus the fact that his little-known opponent was essentially abandoned as hopeless by her own national party.
Of more general applicablity is that he showed up and made an effort. As Christie himself said, in gloating about his performance among Hispanic voters, “You get in, you build relationships, you build trust, and then people are willing to give you a chance.”
But it’s his actual policy positions that explain Christie’s appeal to such a large share of Hispanic voters (even in 2009, pre-Sandy, he got 35 percent, which is at the top of the normal range for Republicans). And not his positions on immigration, which, while bad, haven’t been especially salient. Rather, it’s on other issues that his relative liberalism appeals to Hispanics: He accepted Obamacare (which Hispanics support more than any other group), supports gun controls (ditto), isn’t especially pro-life in a policy sense, and perhaps most important, has gone out of his way to be seen as friendly to President Obama.
Grover Norquist said yesterday that Governor Christie is a “fine voice for the Northeast Republicans” and that conservatives must “grade on a curve.” This is obviously true — the most conservative candidate who’s electable in New Jersey is a different person from his counterpart in Nebraska or Kentucky. But what continued immigration does is profoundly change the electorate and thus move the goal posts, so that the “most electable conservative” benchmark shifts relentlessly to the left.
Phyllis Schlafly had a good column on this recently, but the headline was misleading: “Amnesty Is Republican Party Suicide.” As Christie’s success shows, continued mass immigration (not just amnesty for the illegals already here) doesn’t have to be a threat to the Republican party per se; rather, it dooms conservatism as a national political force.
Conservatives should be delighted at Christie’s victory in a Democratic state like New Jersey. But the only way to prevent his brand of moderate Republicanism from becoming the only kind that matters is to curb legal immigration and start enforcing the law.