Is this smart politics or just pandering? Hillary Clinton announced today that she supports a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. On the other side, Republican Jeb Bush has supported a pathway to citizenship, calling it the “grown up” plan on immigration. Mrs. Clinton plans to make the announcement in Nevada (via NYT):
Mrs. Clinton on Tuesday will call for a path to citizenship for immigrants who are living in the country illegally, an apparent attempt to set a clear contrast with Republicans while appealing to a crucial bloc of Hispanic voters.
Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, will make the call in a round-table discussion at a Las Vegas high school that her campaign said has a roughly 70 percent Hispanic student body.
The students include “Dream Act-eligible young Nevadans who are personally affected by our broken immigration system,” a campaign official wrote in a memo briefing reporters.
Mrs. Clinton will endorse border protections, but will “say that the standard for a true solution is nothing less than a full and equal path to citizenship,” the campaign official said.
Though Mrs. Clinton did better with Hispanics in 2008 than Barack Obama, the immigration issue has been fraught for her. In an October 2007 Democratic presidential debate, she was tripped up on the subject of providing driver’s licenses for immigrants who are living in the country illegally.
Last September, Hillary dodged questions about immigration at then-Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-IA) annual steak fry in Iowa.
As Clinton walked slowly by signing autographs after speaking at the gathering in Indianola, which is named after outgoing Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, one of the activists told her that she’s an Iowa DREAMer, one of many young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally when they were children.
Yay!” Clinton replied, holding a thumbs up.
Also, it’s not 2008 anymore. Hispanic activists are irked that Obama hasn’t delivered on immigration, and they’re skeptical that Hillary would be any different if she were elected president in 2016. In fact, some are describing the Democratic attacks blaming Republicans the impasse on immigration as old news, or a piece of “stale bread” (via WaPo):
Cesar Vargas has a message for Hillary Rodham Clinton as she blames Republicans for a broken immigration system and seeks Hispanic support: We’ve heard it all before.
President Obama promised an immigration overhaul that hasn’t come, said Vargas, co-director of Dream Action Coalition, an advocacy group for young Latinos. And while Obama has made some progress on slowing deportations and other issues, he said, Clinton will have to show how she will get farther.
“That type of rhetoric is already stale, especially to the Latino community,” Vargas said. “It’s like a piece of stale bread.”
Vargas was among several activists and Hispanic leaders who spoke to Clinton political director Amanda Renteria ahead of Clinton’s trip to Nevada. His organization was also included on a conference call that Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta held with Hispanic leaders shortly after she announced her campaign last month.
“We saw President Obama, who promised the world to us and had a record number of deportations — more than any other president in history,” Vargas said. “If a timid President Obama won’t do it, what would a bold Hillary Clinton do?”
Over at Hot Air, Allahpundit noted that Hillary might be open to expanding Obama's executive orders on immigration if Congress fails to act. Yet, he did mention how Bush and Rubio fare better than Romney with Hispanics; a point the Rubio crowd will surely play up on as 2016 begins to pick up steam.
Yet, all of this falls into the whole Hispanic voter monomania on both sides. Is it in Republicans’ best interest to go after Hispanic voters? Yes, in general, they should go after every voting bloc, but as I’ve mentioned before from others in previous posts; the lion’s share of Hispanic voters live in states that aren’t competitive in national elections. Moreover, Hispanic voters were just 10 percent of the 2012 electorate. On average, whites will make up, as they do in many elections prior, around 75 percent of the electorate in 2016. So, yes, Republicans should inject steroids into their minority inclusion operations for Hispanics–and Asians (they’re now the largest demographic of new immigrants), but let’s not forget that it’s policy that matters.
In fact, immigration isn’t even a top concern for Hispanics–it’s education followed by jobs and the economy. Moreover, the fact that Hispanics are in the working/lower class provides Republicans with an opportunity to go beyond their usual economic theory of tax cuts to spur economic growth. Granted, it works; the Bush tax cuts saw 52 months of uninterrupted economic growth. Yet, what’s possibly driving working class voters to the Republicans is their anger over Democrats for being so fixated on the “undeserving poor.”
These voters make enough not to be recipients of the welfare state, but have to pay taxes to subsidize those government programs for the “undeserving poor.” What are they getting out of Democratic economic policies? Not much, as indicated by the support of working class whites across the country, who have the same economic anxieties as anyone in that socioeconomic group.
As Reihan Salam wrote in Slate last month:
To win Latinos, GOP candidates can’t just get behind immigration reform and hope for the best. They must speak to the economic anxieties of working- and lower-middle-class Americans of all ethnic backgrounds. If Republicans believe that increasing taxes and public investment are not the best strategies for building a flourishing society [he mentions that Hispanics have leaned this way since the 2008 financial crash] that lifts the economic fortunes of the poor as well as the rich, they need to actually make an affirmative case for a more conservative approach. If Bush fails to do just that, Marco Rubio has an opportunity to steal his thunder.
Rubio’s advantage is that more than almost any other leading Republican, he’s dedicated himself to thinking about and talking about how conservatives can advance middle-class economic interests. Not all of Rubio’s proposals are fully baked. His signature tax reform proposal has been criticized (justifiably) on the grounds that it’s a huge revenue-loser that promises all things to all people. Yet Rubio has pushed a number of promising ideas, like higher wage subsidies for low-income workers, a new child credit to make it easier for middle-income parents to make ends meet, and modest higher education reforms designed to steer students toward high-quality, cost-effective colleges and away from diploma mills that produce more dropouts than graduates.
Yet, Salam noted that before the crash, Hispanics were very receptive to Bush’s idea of an “ownership society” when they were “climbing up the property ladder.”
So, in a sense, the way to win Latinos might not be as fraught with danger as some might think, though the accusations of pandering from the mainstream media would surely be directed at Republicans. That’s not to say that Republicans risk being mocked for having a new list of policies that speak to the concerns of America’s working class–they do. These folks are looking for an economic populist, and I’m not quite sure Clinton has much capital in the authenticity bank. There’s an opportunity here.
Last note: As Allahpundit mentioned, Clinton was probably going to back pathway to citizenship anyway since she supported it in 2008 as well.