Political Animal


October 31, 2012 12:49 PM Inching Towards Relevance on Immigration

By Ed Kilgore

If Mitt Romney loses, and if Republicans fail to take advantage of an extraordinary opportunity to take control of the Senate, there will be a lot of justifiable talk about the decision of the GOP and its presidential candidate to subordinate efforts to appeal to Latino voters to its recent nativist bender. As Terence McCoy explains in a “web exclusive” article for Washington Monthly, some maneuvering over the platform at the Republican National Convention richly illustrates how far the GOP is from relevance on immigration policy, despite the efforts of a few lonely voices to find a path back that could reconnect it with potential Latino supporters.

McCoy chronicles the efforts of a Texas Republican named Brad Baily who managed to get a “tiny concession” to the Latino vote inserted into the Republican platform alongside the usual immigrant-bashing language:

First adopted by Lone Star state Republicans at their state convention last June, Baily’s plan calls for a guest-worker program. Of course, to be eligible for the program, immigrants must self-fund any participation fees, pass a full criminal background check, secure their own private health insurance, waive any public assistance, exhibit proficiency in English, complete a rather ambiguous-sounding “American civics class,” before, finally, agreeing to be biometrically tracked. “I agree the qualifiers are too strident,” Bailey sighed.
But for a party whose standard bearer has called for “self deportation,” this is a considerable departure.

Even that took some doing, mainly in the form of Baily personally bending the ear of every influential person he could find at the convention about the demographic catastrophe of actively repelling the Latino vote. His “Texas solution,” which even he wouldn’t really describe as a “solution,” made it into the platform as something of an anomaly.

[A]ligned against Baily were countervailing forces, lead Ken Kobach, Kansas secretary of state. He would be Bailey’s dueling partner for four days.
Kobach wanted to enshrine Arizona’s immigration’s laws, which he’d partly authored, in the 2012 Republican platform. Bailey, who’s worked alongside Hispanics for years at his seafood joints, said Kobach didn’t get it. His policies, in a way, demonized immigrants. “They’re not thugs like Kobach describes,” Bailey said. Ultimately, Kobach got his way. The platform said Arizona-style laws should be “encouraged, not attacked” and called on the federal government to dismiss its lawsuits against the legislation.
But, in a surprising turn, Bailey got his way too. The platform recommends a “legal and reliable source of foreign labor where needed through a new guest worker program.” -provided, again, that they agree be “biometrically tracked,” secure their own private health insurance, speak proficient English and all rest. The apparent contradiction in tone exemplifies just how, shall we say, bifurcated the Republican Party has become on immigration.

That’s putting it generously. Give McCoy’s piece a careful reading. It provides a good insight into the struggle Republicans are having on this issue, which will become even more important in the years ahead.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • K Wilson on October 31, 2012 1:11 PM:

    The Republicans' position on this issue is probably the most obvious example of their self-destructive feedback loop. A substantial portion of American Hispanics, perhaps even a majority, are a natural Republican constituency: moderately traditionalist socially conservative Catholics, oriented toward small business, with a suspicion of government based on long and bitter Latin American experience. And yet the GOP goes on an nativist bender that would make the Know-Nothings proud, adopts polices and rhetoric which ensure that no one named Rodriguez will vote Republican for a generation, and and tries to win elections as the party of Angry Old White Men. Even George W. Bush understood this, yet could make no progress against Republican nativists. One sure sign that the current Republican madness has subsided will be when they change their minds on immigration and start to court Hispanic voters.

  • c u n d gulag on October 31, 2012 1:13 PM:

    'Welcome, Juan and Juanita, to America, the home of freedom and liberty!
    Now, we've got some biometric tracking device for you to wear under your skin.'

    Yes, THAT'LL sell!

  • Keith M Ellis on October 31, 2012 1:17 PM:

    All else being equal, this is better understood as another chapter in the eternal, and normal, battle between populism and pragmatism in the GOP. The Democratic Party has had, and still has, its share of these battles, as well you know, Ed.

    Granted, right now in the GOP, all else isn't equal. I think it's on the verge of a transformational moment as a consequence of its demographics in the context of the changing national demographics. This includes, obviously, the ascendency of hispanics in the US; but it also represents all the other demographic trends that have been working against the GOP for a while.

    Basically, the GOP can choose to commit to its shrinking core demographic and become, essentially, an ethnic party. Or it can encourage the populist and pragmatic factions to find conservatives ideas around which to form a core identity that don't rely on that ethnic identity created by that shrinking historical core demographic. This was really Rove's aim, and that of others.

    Arguably, what diverted their effort was 9/11. War and terrorism more than anything else inflames fear and xenophobia. There is, I think, a deep connection between islamaphobia and the anti-immigration preoccupation. This wave was mostly bottom-up, a populist, right-wing xenophobia that the usual right-wing demagogues exploited for their own gain.

    The problem, though, is that negotiating with these populist elements and the associated exploiting demagogues is always difficult and contentious. Unless they truly discredit themselves, you can't really divorce your party from people like Limbaugh, you can only exist in an uneasy marriage and hope he finally retires. And politicians and party leaders are irresistibly drawn to utilizing them when their goals align, which makes it much more difficult to disengage when they don't.

    When I say that this is about populism versus pragmatism, what I mean is that the anchor for the anti-immigration movement is in the populist section of the GOP. Some degree of xenophobia is much more universal, of course. And Arizona itself is its own peculiar thing. But this xenophobia is a dominating force only insofar as it remains a key, or the key, idea around which right-wing populism is active. And as long we're in an environment which encourages the larger anti-islamic xenophobia, this populism that is built around a xenophobic sense of increasing ethnic solidarity of "Real Americans" will prevail. And at some point, a point of no return will be crossed where the GOP has become truly an ethnic party, a much more polite version of a white nationalist party. And they will slowly die from it.

    Which, honestly, I don't think will happen. I think that somehow hispanics will be brought into the magic circle of white people, like the Irish were, and the GOP will survive. I have to admit, though, that I don't see a plausible way for this to happen in the very near term. People like Baily are still almost powerless.

    Perhaps the moment of forced decision is when Texas finally becomes a battleground state. If it were ever to move into the blue column, the GOP will probably never win another Presidency or control Congress. The merest hint of this truly becoming possible will force a clarity of thought and purpose on the GOP, you can count on it.

  • max on October 31, 2012 1:22 PM:

    His “Texas solution,” which even he wouldn’t really describe as a “solution,” made it into the platform as something of an anomaly.

    And he shouldn't describe it as a solution. And Democrats are as guilty about being stupid on this as anyone else. 'Guest worker' should translate as 'serf'.

    That is, the upper-crust R's are perfectly happy to have Mexicans immigrate and compete with other poor Americans to keep wages low - they just don't want those Mexicans to vote or get benefits. (They're perfectly happy to have the serfs 'guest workers' pay taxes - first they skimp on pay and then they skip out entirely on benefits and then they claw back some of the low pay as taxes to keep R taxes low. What's there for a beltway centrist not to like?) This isn't any different from the way the southern prison system is run to maximize proceeds from slave labor (subsidized for the connected).

    If we (Democrats) want Mexican immigrants (or whatever immigrants) then we let them come here and become citizens and pay taxes and get benefits and decent wages. And VOTE.

    If we (D's) can't do that, it's not worth doing just to subsidize already well-off farmers. So I don't see this as progress for Hispanics, it's just the usual suspects writing themselves a personal out.

    ['Aside from the fact that treating people like serfs, (even brown people! yes!) is nasty and evil.']

  • bluestatedon on October 31, 2012 1:48 PM:

    This is exactly why I've been so skeptical of all the polling this election year that shows Romney getting 30% and more of the Hispanic vote. This isn't 2008—the GOP's position on Hispanic immigration is far more punitive and discriminatory than it was just four short years ago, and for Hispanic/Latino voters to vote for Romney and other Republicans in spite of this makes the Log Cabin Republicans look almost rational in their mind-boggling affection for a political party that demonizes them at every opportunity.

  • Keith M Ellis on October 31, 2012 1:53 PM:

    I agree with you, Max — the idea of a large, legally-sanctioned disenfranchised worker class pushes every progressive button I have. I find it sickening. And the last thing I ever want to see in the US is a legally-sanctioned permanently disenfranchised immigrant worker class like you see in much of the rest of the world. It's pure exploitation.

    We have this now, of course ... but it's not enshrined into law. Movement in that direction whatsoever makes me very nervous.

    All that said, the thing is that for the people concerned, and their families, what they most care about is basic necessities. They just want to work and feed themselves and their families.

    I'm not comfortable with disregarding this more proximate, pressing consideration. I'm not comfortable letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, saying that because reforms of this nature might well lead to something abhorrent that's permanent, we should instead not allow the only reforms that are presently possible. Maybe, instead, we should encourage those but then work to ensure that they don't lead to what we fear.

  • Jonathan Dresner on October 31, 2012 2:02 PM:

    Just a quick correction: it's "Kris Kobach" not "Ken Kobach." Oddly, he hasn't made much headway in our home state of Kansas with the anti-immigration stuff. Might have something to do with the reliance of Kansas farmers on migrant labor?