The Corner

What about the Workers?

In a letter to fellow-Republicans on the Hill today, Senator Jeff Sessions declares with admirable straightforwardness that the GOP establishment’s main argument for the Gang of Eight immigration bill — that “the great lesson of the 2012 election is that the GOP needs to push for immediate amnesty and a drastic surge in low-skill immigration” — is quite simply ”nonsense.” He is, of course, correct. That is true, moreover, of every other argument advanced in favor of the bill by the Gang of Eight and the GOP establishment. All these arguments have been investigated to death, generally by Mark Krikorian on these pages, but also by a wide range of critics elsewhere, notably Mickey Kaus. I can’t think of a single one that has survived its vivisection — no, vivisection is performed on living things; the correct term for examining these arguments is post mortem.

That doesn’t deter the usual suspects from producing the same exploded arguments again and again like a magician producing a series of dead parrots from his hat and vainly ordering them to say “Lovely Bill.” Today’s letter from GOP donors and fundraisers — i.e., the GOP establishment — to the House Republicans repeats the same dreary fallacies. It scarcely seems worth the cost of the stamps. And as Mickey Kaus points out, its organizer, former Bush II commerce secretary Carlos Guterriez, more or less admits that this is a struggle between Republican donors and Republican voters. In fact it’s worse than that. This struggle pits a political coalition of the Republican and Democrat establishments versus blue-collar workers in both parties and of all ethnicities. And the electoral realities of such a struggle don’t favor the establishments.

That’s the strongest point in the letter from Jeff Sessions. This is not his demolition of the establishment rationale for the bill but his argument that opposing it could be a main element in a Republican pitch to the blue-collar voter. The Reagan Democrats drifted away from the GOP in the 1990s in response to the different appeals of Bill Clinton and Ross Perot. Neither George Bush, nor John McCain, nor Mitt Romney made serious attempts to win them back. Mitt Romney was anyway the Republican candidate least likely to appeal to working class (or even lower-middle-class) voters. Once the Obama campaign had cleverly demonized him as Mr. Vulture Capitalist, it felt able to ignore this (still numerous) section of the electorate — until at the last minute it panicked and sent in Bill Clinton to prevent any slippage to Romney. The result is an American blue-collar vote that the Democrats have alienated but that the Republicans have not bothered to woo.

The Democrats are uneasily aware of the danger this poses to them. It is one factor in their passionate but guarded support for the Gang of Eight immigration bill and explains their insistence in three Congresses that Republicans give them “cover” on the issue. The bill is a direct attack on the living standards and job opportunities of low-income Americans of all ethnicities. If the Republicans support it, that would be another signal to blue-collar workers that the GOP is at best indifferent to their interests. Yesterday’s letter from Republican donors would be Exhibit One in any election campaign. But all over the world conservative parties are winning more votes from working-class voters as leftist parties make gains in an increasingly public-sector middle class. By fighting the Gang of Eight bill on the explicit grounds that it penalizes hard-working and lower-paid Americans, the GOP could make even larger gains than Reagan made in the 1980s among these voters. And this electoral bloc dwarfs any other in numerical terms.

Sessions sees this; the GOP establishment does not. Or if it does, it is sacrificing the political interests of the Republican party (and the economic interests of lower-paid Americans) to its own short-term economic adantage.  

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