January 25, 2008
Can the GOP Reframe the Illegal Immigration Issue?By Lee Cary
One major task facing the eventual Republican presidential nominee will be to reframe the debate toward the real issue: the negative ramifications, to both illegal immigrants and U.S. citizens, that stem from mass uncontrolled immigration from Mexico.
In the days leading up to Super Tuesday, and then the months leading up to November, we can expect a play-by-play analysis of how the debate over illegal immigration is influencing Latino voters. Both parties will spend record-setting dollars on Spanish-speaking media outlets to sway opinions. The Democrats' pitch is predictable.
Their nominee, whether it's the Clintons or Obama, will portray the Republicans as heartless exploiters of poor, underemployed and underpaid immigrants. They'll associate the GOP with the greedy employers of undocumented workers, including construction companies, landscaping firms, and chicken producers. Along with heart-rending stories of impoverished families, there will be references to their lack of healthcare, their susceptibility to unscrupulous schemes without legal redress, and their daily existence in fear of an ICE raid.
All in all, Latino voters will be treated to a relentless, scaled-down version of the Diary of Anne Frank where they, by their ethnic association with illegal migrants, become victims, too. The intent will be to pull the emotional strings of the targeted audience -- Latino citizens registered to vote -- against anything Republican. This approach will enjoy considerable success.
The key question is: How will the Republican nominee reframe the issue, instead of going on the defense in order to counter Democrat accusations?
American Thinker's Ed Lasky, in a June 1, 2007 article entitled "Hillary and Hispanics," quotes Clinton's campaign manager, Mark Penn, who wrote:
If war is the continuation of politics with other means (Clausewitz), and the first casualty of war is truth (Aeschylus), then in political warfare historical fact dies early. The greater truth behind Penn's statement is reframed this way:
As Lasky's piece notes, the Republican nominee will be playing serious catch-up, particularly if the Democrats nominate the Clintons.
Consequently, any Republican effort to out-pander the Clintons in an appeal for the Latino vote will fail; the MSM will see to it. On September 19, 2007, Michael Gerson, writing an Op-Ed column for the Washington Post, stretched out a storyline that will, unless the Republican nominee successfully reframes the discussion, lead all the way to the general election.
If the Republican nominee attempts to reframe the illegal migration issue, he must do so with a compelling clarity that appeals to the citizenship of Latino voters, not to their ethnicity. An appeal to the rule of law and not to the role of race, best serves the long-term interests of all Americans. Richard Baehr outlined one example of a proposal that would address the problem while honoring the sanctity of citizenship and the rule of law and appealing to the profound sense of honor animating many Latino cultures.
Is there any hope that such an appeal can work?
Yes, there is both hope that it will register with Hispanic voters, and the necessity that it do so if a Republican is to become the next president.
A wave of Hispanic registered voters looms over the political horizon. Its full impact will not fully arrive in '08, but demographics herald its coming. But, even in the next election, the Hispanic vote will carry more weight than at any time past.
A Pew Hispanic Center study entitled "Hispanics and the 2008 Election: A Swing Vote?" notes that, although the 2007 split between Latino registered voters who align with the Democrat party (57%) versus the Republican party (23%) has widened since the 2004 general election (then 49%-28%), it differs little from the 1999 split (58%-25%) during the run-up to the 2000 election.
The numbers also show that Hispanic votes, as a percentage of total votes cast in the elections of 2000 and 2004, increased .6% from 5.4-6.0%, while the Black vote decreased .6% from 11.7-11.1%, and the White vote decreased 1% from 85.8-84.8%. That trend will likely continue.
Regardless of whether or not the illegal Hispanic migrants eventually become legal registered votes, the numbers of registered Hispanic citizens will continue to trend upward given the youth of that population. And, while the GOP's association with the failed immigration bill has registered negatively with many Hispanic voters in the short-run, there is still time to influence the long-term jury.
Here's an illustration of what's at stake: Even though a greater percentage of the Democrat members of the Senate and House voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and against the Voting Rights Act of 1965 than Republicans, the perception among many blacks today is that both laws passed over the opposition of the GOP. Republicans never effectively confronted that distortion of historical fact. The long-term alienation of a large ethnic population from the GOP could happen again. But it need not.
It cannot be assumed that Hispanic voters will over-emphasize what non-Hispanics pundits assume are their race-based self-interests.
Another Pew study, dated December 19, 2007, entitled "2007 National Survey of Latinos: As Illegal Immigration Issue Heats Up, Hispanics Feel a Chill," states that (bolding added):
There is reason to hope that Hispanics vote based on what they perceive to be the long-term interests of their children. The Republican nominee must convey a desirable vision for that future; a vision that recognizes and taps into the deep-seated family values and work ethic of Hispanics immigrants, legal and illegal.
Hispanic citizens show evidence of not being single-issue voters. The previously cited Pew study "Hispanics and the 2008 Election..." polled registered citizens as to their preferred candidates. It would be reasonable to expect that, because of his high-profile support of the immigration bill, Senator John McCain would lead the preference list among Republicans. He did not. The study states that:
Voting decisions among Hispanics may not be as predictable as conventional wisdom might think, nor may they collectively fall into the currently reliable pattern of blacks voting heavily Democrat.
The tolerance for illegal immigration exercised by U.S. governments at all levels, coupled with the encouragement, if not outright facilitation, of the Mexican government, did not emerge overnight. And any fair assessment of our economic growth must give the illegal immigrant worker a share of the credit.
On the flip side, the volume of illegal immigration has reached and exceeded the tipping point and must end. The next president will lead the nation toward a resolution that a majority of U.S. citizens can support because it is in the nation's best interests, not in the interests of any political party. The failed immigration bill did not meet that basic criterion of citizen approval for several reasons, and suffered the consequences.
In the 2004 election, between 40-44% of Hispanic votes, depending on which exit poll one believes, went to George W. Bush. The next Republican candidate for the presidency should not assume he is destined to do worse, nor incapable of doing better.