Wednesday night’s CNN/YouTube Republican debate spent the first 23 minutes on immigration.
That is primarily a decision of CNN in choosing several immigration questions first, but the candidates did not need much prompting, and the conservative audience likely had no problem with it.
But the focus on immigration is extremely damaging to the field and the party in two key ways.
One, the relentless immigrant-bashing will continue to hurt the GOP, as it did in 2006.
The last congressional election saw an 11-point swing in the Latino vote towards the Democrats from the 2004 election, which was not offset by any gains among white voters. (Most voters support pathways to citizenship.)
In short, bashing immigrants got them nowhere.
Yet they persist, because their conservative base demands it.
Two, the intense focus on the issue is enticing the candidates to virulently attack each other, which is exposing the lot of them as hypocrites, panderers and flip-floppers.
As I noted in the last LiberalOasis Radio Show, every single GOP candidate with a remotely plausible shot at winning the nomination (Giuliani, Huckabee, McCain, Romney and Thompson) have pro-immigrant policies and positions in their past records — supporting government services to the undocumented and/or supporting pathways for the undocumented to become citizens.
And with the exception of McCain, they are all trying to act as if their top priority is to rid America of the 12 million who have committed misdemeanors in coming here to work and feed their families.
But since each candidate feels need to prove they hate immigrants the most, they are calling out the flip-flops of each other. Everybody loses.
They continue to alienate Latinos. They lose public trust by showing their lack of principle.
And whichever candidate is the last one standing doesn’t get a boost for shining bright in a hard-fought race, just emerges bloodied and bruised.
No one can “win” this argument because, from a conservative perspective, none of them has a strong record to tout.
Yet they’ll keep digging their hole, caught up in the vitriol that drives the conservative base and separates them from the majority of the country.
On ABC’s This Week, host George Stephanopoulos asked his guests to respond to a Heritage Foundation claim that “low-skill” workers take more from the country than they give in taxes, and increased immigration would heighten that dynamic.
Stephanopoulos did not say that:
1) The Heritage Foundation is a conservative operation, let alone a conservative operation with a history of shoddy research.
2) The “low-skill” report was debunked by the Immigration Policy Center as “one in a long line of deeply flawed economic analyses which claim to estimate the contributions and ‘costs’ of workers”.
In turn, Stephanopoulos gave Heritage a credibility it does not deserve, giving the impression its claims are objective fact.
Today, Talking Points Memo notices a trend in GOP campaign ads:
…race tinged ads about Democrats wanting to give free dollars to hordes of Mexican illegals. Scratch the surface of any competitive race out there. You’ll find it.
And yesterday, Think Progress noted that the “Secure Fence Act” signed by Dubya is a transparently empty gesture: “authorizing” the fence that nativists are calling for, but not paying for it.
The GOP is clearly concerned that the nativist facation of their base is going to stay home Election Day, because those folks are acutely aware that Dubya sides with the corporate, cheap labor faction of their base.
So Republican leaders trying to snooker their own people, with nasty blame-shifting ads and bogus bills.
As noted here before, it is the corporate-nativist split that prevented immigration reform legislation (good or bad) from getting passed this year.
And back in March, LiberalOasis discussed the potential fallout of such a failure:
Party leaders will have failed to have contained their nativist wing and in turn, failed to present a welcoming party for Latinos.
Meanwhile, the nativists may harbor resentment because the House bill never was taken seriously by party leaders, which could hurt turnout in the fall.
Will signing the “Fence” bill appease the nativist camp and save GOP turnout? Unclear.
The Lou Dobbs take seems to be representative: mixed.
It’s remarkable how long it has taken to get to even this point. But … as critical as we are in this broadcast of an administration that has refused to provide border security and to do anything on illegal immigration, this, one can reasonably hope, was an important first step and not gamesmanship.
But one thing we can be sure about is that the desparate “race-tinged” ad campaign is a severe setback to the GOP’s long-term project to add the Latino vote to its overwhelmingly white coalition — which the party needs to do if it wants to be a majority party in the future, as American diversity continues to flourish.
Back in May, LiberalOasis predicted the GOP would be unable to reconcile its nativist-corporatist split over immigration, and wrote:
The only remaining question is: will the GOP try really hard to get a bill passed before November, attracting much media attention for the eventual train wreck?
Or will they save themselves the headache, put off negotiations until after November, and try to fail as quietly as possible?
“Fail Quietly” wins! Today’s NY Times reports:
Congressional Republican leaders have all but abandoned a broad overhaul of immigration laws and instead will concentrate on national security issues they believe play to their political strength…
…A final decision on what do about immigration policy awaits a meeting this week of senior Republicans.
But key lawmakers and aides who set the Congressional agenda say they now believe it would be politically risky to try to advance an immigration measure that would showcase party division…
Unfortunately, the GOP will largely succeed with failing quietly.
Dems never sought the reframe the debate, as LiberalOasis recommended, by highlighting the GOP split, emphasizing how neither wing of the GOP was acting in good faith, and offering an alternative solution that truly addressed the underlying problems.
That would have set up the Dems as principled problem-solvers and Republicans as soulless handmaidens of special interests — which would have made the GOP’s inevitable failure all the more damning.
Instead, Dems generally have sided with Dubya’s corporate position.
Without their own distinct stance, Dems aren’t well-positioned to exploit the GOP failure.
Worse, without a frame of their own to guide them, craven and myopic political consultants have been pushing Dems in the nativist direction for the election season.
That risks muddying the Dem message in the short-term, and harming Latino outreach in the long-term.
But that also means the quiet GOP failure has an upside: with immigration likely to get less attention in the fall, the Dems’ mishandling of the issue may also escape notice.