CROMER: The GOP’s lost opportunity

Published on December 16th, 2008

Immigration approach alienated Latinos

By Mark Cromer
December 16, 2008


As the chief strategist who married President Bush’s political goals to national policy initiatives, Karl Rove was more responsible than any other member of the administration for the delusional and disastrous immigration policy that Mr. Bush doggedly pursued throughout his eight years in office.

The disgraceful twin hallmarks of that immigration policy remain a violently unsecured border and the continuing demand for an epic amnesty of illegal immigrants that’s unprecedented in the history of nations. The numbers themselves are staggering, with the lowball figure of four million to the more realistic estimate of 12 to 16 million illegal immigrants crossing our borders during Mr. Bush’s eight years in office.

Yet instead of viewing such a Biblical exodus of economic refugees from the corrupt and failed state of Mexico as a catastrophe for working Americans, Mr. Rove read the tea leaves for Mr. Bush and interpreted them as pure political opportunity.

Indeed, Mr. Rove envisioned a Republican dynasty in Washington that relied on the linchpin of the Hispanic vote – a small-but-growing demographic that was ostensibly still up for grabs. Mr. Rove’s logic held that culturally conservative Latino voters would break for the GOP in significant margins, providing that Republicans pandered to them on the issue of immigration.

In 2003, Mr. Rove suggested that the impending 2004 elections would determine if the Republicans were finally witnessing the fundamental realignment of the American body politic to their side. When Mr. Bush was sworn in for his second term, the GOP had increased its majorities in both the Senate and the House.

In May 2005, Sen. John McCain ushered in the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act with Sen. Ted Kennedy, but that bill and successive attempts at amnesty failed when Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove could not break a stubborn bulwark of Republicans in the House.

By nominating McCain the Republicans ran a poster candidate for Mr. Rove’s grand design, as the party simply couldn’t produce a candidate more palatable to Latino activists and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on immigration.

As the co-author of the sweeping plan for amnesty, McCain played the role of the conciliatory Republican to the hilt during the fall campaign. He refused to discuss the impact of illegal immigration on working Americans during the debates and cheerfully pandered on the sly to ethnocentric groups like the National Council of La Raza. He recruited radical Latino pan-nationalist Juan Hernandez as a member of his campaign staff and silently backed away from the issue of real border security at every opportunity.

Yet what did McCain’s 30 pieces of silver buy the GOP come November? A stunning loss among Latinos, with two out of every three Hispanic voters who went to the polls voting for Barack Obama.

As a result of that drubbing, the narrative now peddled by Latino activists and their business allies holds that the Republicans doomed whatever slim chance they had in November by taking a "hard line" against illegal immigration. This is a national application of the political mythmaking that Latino activists successfully lab-tested in California fifteen years ago.

Conventional wisdom in media circles throughout California has it that the once rock-ribbed Republican state slid irreversibly into the Democratic column as a result of Gov. Pete Wilson’s support in 1994 for the wildly popular Prop. 187, which would have ended most public benefits for illegal immigrants.

This narrative holds that Mr. Wilson’s embrace of Californians outrage over their state being swamped with illegal immigrants awoke a sleeping giant in the Latino electorate, one that has turned the Golden State a deep shade of blue.

It’s a nice story for the Democrats to kick around watering holes with their favorite journalists, but it’s fiction.

The reality is that Prop. 187 passed with more than 60-percent of the vote, including significant support in the black, Latino and Asian communities. More than five million Californians of every racial, ethnic and religious stripe voted to end the "pull factors" of taxpayer subsidies to illegal immigrants. Far from peddling crass demagoguery to stoke racial fears, Mr. Wilson smartly tapped into a righteous backlash of voter disgust over a tidal wave of illegal immigration that was destroying their quality of life and a government that was doing nothing about it.

The real lesson that the GOP should learn from California is that when it stands up for common sense efforts to secure our nation’s borders and offers an unflinching, principled defense for the sovereignty of the United States and its fundamental rule of law, then immigration is an indisputable winner.

But when the GOP succumbs to the slithering temptation of a cynical political scheme, when Republicans replace clear-eyed confidence on the issue of immigration with a halting air of uncertainty – when its own leadership begins to parrot the transparently false propaganda of its opponents – then the existential threat it faces comes from within its own ranks as its raison d’être washes away into the quicksand of a compromise that is far more surrender than it is consensus.

Mark Cromer is a senior writing fellow at Californians for Population Stabilization.

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