As evidence by last week’s rush to embrace a phony border security amendment, too many in the Republican Establishment are fixated on immigration reform as merely a quick fix political strategy. Earlier this month, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) became just the latest to reiterate this failed outlook:
“We’re in a demographic death spiral as a party, and the only way we can get back in good graces with the Hispanic community, in my view, is pass comprehensive immigration reform. If you don’t do that, it really doesn’t matter who will run, in my view.”
Not only is that the wrong way to view immigration reform, but it all but ensures terrible policy outcomes and continued political defeat.
In the days following the election, a list of who’s who among the Republican Establishment sounded off on the need for immigration reform. To be clear, there are plenty of good reasons to reform our immigration system, but many of these folks had one thing on their minds: winning the White House in 2016.
President Obama predicted this very reaction in his October 2012 interview with the Des Moines Register, claiming Republicans would “have a deep interest” in embracing amnesty after his reelection, which was secured because the “Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community.”
Republican strategists – many of the same folks in charge of the 2008 and 2012 campaigns – looked at the top line numbers and decided the President was right. Mitt Romney had lost the Hispanic vote by 44 points, the largest gap since Bob Dole lost by 21 points to Bill Clinton in 1996. They concluded that given the projected growth in Hispanic voting population, a continued shift away from the GOP could spell electoral disaster. In their minds, they had to act…fast.
Enter the Senate’s Gang of Eight.
Former attorney general Edwin Meese says the bill The Heritage Foundation explains “should sound familiar” because “it’s quite close to the path and provisions” put forth in the 1986 amnesty passed by a Democrat Congress and signed by Republican President Reagan.
Following that amnesty – an amnesty signed by a Republican president – Democrats’ advantage among Hispanics jumped from 24 points to 39 points in the 1988 presidential election. Although the GOP won the election, they lost ground among Hispanics voters.
It was a similar story in 2008. Despite having been the driving force behind an amnesty proposal in 2007, GOP nominee John McCain lost the Hispanic vote by 36 points to a Democrat who helped derail the bill. In 2004, Democrats won Hispanics with just an 18-point margin.