A struggle is under way for the soul of the Republican Party between a minority of protectionist xenophobes and those who are pro-trade and pro-immigration. It's beneath the radar screen but it's not so quiet.
I was enormously gratified last week to see voters send a powerful message to Nervous Nellies in the party who remain reluctant to stand on their principles in an election year. In two critical primaries, one for the Senate seat in South Carolina and the other for the House seat in Utah, Republican voters rejected reactionary candidates and awarded politicians who took courageous and optimistic positions on the hot-button issues of immigration, trade and Social Security reform.
In the South Carolina primary for the right to run for Fritz Hollings' Senate seat - the U.S. Senate's most anti-immigration, anti-free-trade member - free trade was the main issue. In a runoff election between pro-trade Congressman Jim DeMint and protectionist former Gov. David Beasley, DeMint ran away with the election at the ballot box.
DeMint's win was particularly satisfying because even though South Carolina has lost textile-industry jobs due to plant relocations, it shows politicians and the media once again underestimated the intelligence and savvy of the voting public to understand the benefits of free trade. DeMint was also unapologetic in his support for personal retirement accounts to reform Social Security, an issue many Republicans have ducked because they are under the misapprehension that it is a "risky" issue. DeMint's success running on Social Security reform illustrates that as with free trade and immigration, the electorate is way ahead of the politicians.
In Utah, Rep. Chris Cannon routed former state legislator Matt Throckmorton by a double-digit margin, even though Throckmorton made immigration the central issue of the campaign. Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo even set up a political action committee and Web site to attack pro-immigration candidates.
Anti-immigration politicians and candidates fail to realize a few fundamental truths, the most important of which is that we are an immigrant country. George Washington famously quipped in 1788 that, "I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong."