I’ve responded to a lively set of comments over at Ricochet.com on the whole subject of immigration (legal and illegal), but want to share it here too since some of the same points have been made by NRO readers. For the record, I am not in the employ of any “open borders” group. I am not in favor of open borders. No one, darn it, has ever even tried to pay me to say anything in my columns, though the left has frequently lobbed accusations that I was in the pay of (take your pick) the Koch brothers, the Israelis, oil and gas interests, the NRA, and the Catholic Church. No such luck I’m afraid.
Here’s my defense of a toned down approach to immigration:
The Republicans have lost the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 presidential contests. If we hope to win the presidency in 2016 and save the greatest nation in world history, we must think and act strategically (and besides, it’s the right thing to do). That means taking into account the feelings of the 12 percent of eligible voters who are Hispanic. These are American citizens, not illegal immigrants.
While it’s true that even winning 40 percent of the Hispanic vote, as George W. Bush did in 2004 (when it was a smaller share of the total electorate) would not have been enough for Mitt Romney to win in 2012, this doesn’t suggest that Republicans should throw up their hands and say “they’re never going to vote for us anyway.” Diligent courting of the immigrant vote has paid off for the conservative party in Canada, for example.
But even if earnest efforts to include Hispanics under the Republican tent didn’t yield a surge in new voters in 2016, it would begin the very crucial process of changing the image of the Republican Party among ALL voters. That image is already one of a party for wealthy white people. Many voters, not just Hispanics, are put off by that image. That, I believe, is one of the chief reasons why Republicans don’t do better among working class white voters, Asians, blacks, and others.
To double down on that image and become not just the party of rich, white people, but the party of mass deportation would be a catastrophe.
I have long maintained that Republicans should adjust their tone on immigration. Many Hispanic voters understand a tough stance on illegal immigration. Many even share it. But what they understandably bristle it are suggestions that Hispanics are undesirables. There are many sensible reforms that are possible with the right tone. The much-denigrated “Gang of Eight” bill, for example, would have eliminated chain migration if I recall correctly.
As to dealing with illegals: As I said in the column, another fence is not going to solve the problem. If you really prioritize ending as much illegal immigration as possible, you should consider a national ID card with biometrics. Many conservatives hate this idea because of the power it places in the hands of the federal government. It’s something to weigh in the balance.
A smart Republican approach to the issue of illegal immigration would constantly stress how much we value the rule of law, how illegals are line jumping and this isn’t fair to those who abide by the rules, how much we value the contributions of Hispanic Americans to this country, and how much we want to include Hispanic Americans in the Republican coalition.
The Trump surge has the potential to cripple the Republican Party by tainting it. During primary season it’s easy to lose sight of the larger electorate. But the ad makers are taking notes and pulling quotes for use next summer. The Democrats are self-destructing. There is a path — clear and inviting — to Republican success. But Trumpism could kill it.