The Corner

Conservative Crack Up & Immigration

From a reader:

I know you have reservations but at least you are looking at the problem honestly. The political dynamics of this bill are important. For all the scare tactics of the extreme right about the death of the GOP, we know one thing. Since the 86 bill the hispanics trend to the the GOP has been increasing not decreasing. The Hispanic GOP and conservative community is screaming out warning signs to us. THe Hispanic Evangelicals community is warning that a uncompromising position on this could lead to a block vote for Dems if we at least do not try to engage them. Engaging doesn’t mean taking their position 100 percent and making them law. Engaging just means treating them with respect and their ideas worthy of pondering. Last year we could have had a bill. All the warning signs were there that we would not be in control of Congress. That bill if it had been allowed to go to conference would have had great border security. The Tancredo hardliners have held the GOP hostage enough. We might disagree if this bill is a good or bad thing. But I do appreciate finally someone trying to engage it honestly at NRO.

Me: I’ve gotten a bunch of notes like this since my first post this morning. And while it’s always nice to be saluted for my reasonableness and honesty (it happens so rarely) I have to reject the substance of the compliment.  Having written 8 trillion (a rough estimate) columns criticizing predictions that the GOP coalition and the rightwing generally are destined to come apart at the seams, I might be the wrong person to make this point but it seems to me that immigration is one of those issues where there really is a major fault-line on the right.  The problem with most liberal, libertarian and, to a lesser extent, paleo warnings about the conservative movement coming apart is that they tend to be products of wishful thinking. Liberals desperately dislike the idea that conservatism is popular, that pro-life stances aren’t a burden for Republican candidates etc. And so they find themselves predicting that the coalition will come apart. They often invoke a vaguely Marxist logic about the “internal contradictions” of conservatism as if it’s just plain impossible, unscientific even, for a winning coalition to hold together while holding so many “wrong” positions. I grew up reading New York Times op-eds explaining that abortion would destroy the GOP. I still haven’t seen it happen.  Similarly, libertarians are often desperate to get out from under the thumb of conservatives. So they too highlight hairline cracks as if they were tectonic fissures.  The reason I think immigration might be different is that there really is a deep and serious disagreement on the issue where political compromise is very, very difficult. It’s no secret that I’m less firmly in the “anti-amnesty” camp then Mark, Rich, Ramesh or Kate. But I don’t for a moment think they’re being dishonest in any way. I think the disagreements on the right are sincere and held in good faith on both sides. And unlike other libertarian-conservative divides (to use a really unsatisfactory label) they are not easily breached by political compromise.  That’s because immigration is a real conservative wedge issue, dividing different segments of the GOP’s base. Indeed, I’ve contributed to the distortion of the issue by saying the “GOP base” is united in its opposition to “comprehensive immigration reform.” It’s not. For example, many small businessmen and even more big businessmen are in favor of some kind of amnesty or amnesty-like solution. It’s silly to say that the GOP is the party of free enterprise and at the same time say that a significant portion of the free enterprisers don’t constitute part of the base — particularly when you take political donations into account. The Chamber of Commerce crowd is just as much a member of the GOP base as the trial lawyers and teachers unions can be called the base of the Democratic Party.  The trick, it seems to me, is to find a way of framing the message and the policy in such a way that divides the Democratic base. But that’s really hard to do.