The networks had barely called the election for President Barack Obama before GOP elites rushed to embrace an amnesty for illegal immigrants.
Getting killed almost three-to-one among Latino voters understandably concentrates the mind, but it’s no reason to lose it. The post-election Republican reaction has been built on equal parts panic, wishful thinking, and ethnic pandering.
It’s one thing to argue that amnesty is the right policy on the merits. It’s another to depict it as the magic key to unlocking the Latino vote. John McCain nearly immolated himself within the Republican party with his support for amnesty and did all of four points better among Latino voters in 2008 than Mitt Romney did in 2012, according to exit polls.
What is the common thread uniting McCain, the advocate of “comprehensive” immigration reform, and Romney, the advocate of “self-deportation”? They are both Republicans supporting conservative economic policies. Surely that had more to do with their showing among Latinos than anything they did or didn’t say about immigration.
According to Census Bureau data, among native-born Hispanics, 50 percent of all households with children are headed by unmarried mothers. About 40 percent of all households receive benefits from a major welfare program. This doesn’t mean that the GOP shouldn’t try to appeal to persons in these households. It does mean that they aren’t natural Republican voters.
Latinos tend to have liberal attitudes toward government. Take health care. An ImpreMedia/Latino Decisions poll of Latinos conducted on the eve of the election found that 61 percent of Latinos supported leaving Obamacare in place. Sixty-six percent believed government should ensure access to health insurance. This might have something to do with the fact that 32 percent of non-elderly Latinos lack health insurance, about twice the national average.
In California, as Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute noted in the aftermath of the election, “Hispanics will prove to be even more decisive in the victory of Governor Jerry Brown’s Proposition 30, which raised upper-income taxes and the sales tax, than in the Obama election.”
These are facts that never intrude upon Wall Street Journal editorials scolding Republicans for supposedly turning their backs on budding new recruits. In the Journal’s telling, if it weren’t for Republican intransigence on immigration, Latino voters would be eagerly joining the fight for lower marginal tax rates and the block-granting of Medicaid.
A recent editorial invoked the welcoming attitude of Ronald Reagan. How much of the Latino vote did Reagan get? In his landslide of 1980, 35 percent. In his landslide of 1984, 37 percent. That’s better than Romney, but still a wipeout. Reagan signed the amnesty of 1986. What did it do for the party’s standing among Latinos? George H.W. Bush got only 30 percent of the Latino vote in his own landslide of 1988.
Republican donors with a disproportionate influence in the party would be perfectly happy to jettison the cause of immigration enforcement. They are fine with a flood of low-skilled immigrants competing with low-skilled American workers. And why shouldn’t they be? These immigrants don’t suppress their wages; they care for their children and clean their pools.
Whenever it is pointed out that illegal immigration tends to harm low-skill workers already here, the comeback is the scurrilous canard that there are “some jobs that no Americans will do.” But most hotel maids, construction workers, coal miners, and workers in meatpacking — all tough, thankless jobs — are U.S.-born. If it is hard to entice legal workers into such positions, here is a radical concept: Pay them more.
None of this is to deny that the GOP has a tonal problem on immigration, or that Latino voters care deeply about the issue. Absent a greater economic appeal to all working-class voters, though, it’s hard to see how a rapid, obviously opportunistic turnabout on immigration will help the party much. Amnesty isn’t a quick fix for the GOP’s problems. Would that it were.