1%, 62% and the failure of Tancredoism

There are all sorts of news reports this morning that Tom Tancredo, who has based his entire campaign on an anti-immigrant platform, is ending his bid for the Presidency. As all of us trying to make sense of the current immigration debate and how Tancredo's total rejection by Republican primary voters fits in let's consider these two figures: 1% and 62%. 1% is the share of the Republican vote Tancredo has been receiving. 62% is the share of Republicans who support an earned path to citizenship, according to a new LA Times poll taken two weeks ago. Taken together it appears that Tancredo's approach to immigration, "Deport Those Who Don't Belong, Make Sure They Never Come Back" has been overwhelmingly rejected by even Republican voters, and is just one more example of how the GOP's investment in the immigration issue has failed time and again to produce the results they had hoped for.

Later today Tancredo will probably try to argue that the reason he never got traction is that the rest of the Republican field has adopted his position. But that really isn't true. Mitt Romney, who has made intense anti-immigration rhetoric a centerpiece of his campaign, is dropping across the board. Mike Huckabee, who seems to rise for every new anti-immigrant ad Romney runs against him in Iowa, has adopted at least rhetorically a much more compassionate path (see here for his new, wacky immigration position). Fred Thompson who has also taken a very hard line on immigration isn't getting any traction, despite his recent endorsement by Iowa Rep. Steve King, a Tancredo ally. John McCain, the Republican most associated with Comprehensive Immigration Reform, is rising in mosts polls and is now very much back in the race. And Rudy, who leads in most national GOP polls has embraced a version of Comprehensive Immigration Reform, and is now running an ad that openly talks about citizenship. Rather than triumphing inside the GOP field, it seems much more plausible to conclude that the Tancredo vision is in the process of being rejected by a Republican Party unwilling to embrace his racist and nativistic approach while acknowledging the importance of the issue itself.

The immigration issue is crying out for strong and forceful leadership. As I argued recently, I see immigration reform as one of the Democratic Party's greatest opportunities to contrast their pragmatic, common-sense approach to tackling the tough problems of the 21st century with the failed conservative approach which, all too often in recent years, has chosen politics over progress. The Comprehensive approach to fixing our broken immigration system has a deep and broad bi-partisan coalition supporting it that includes many important business, labor, religious and immigrant leaders and elected officials of both parties; is one of the few issues embraced by both Bush and Clinton; has a history of bi-partisanship, as it is one of the few important bills to actually pass the Senate in recent years; is supported by all the Democratic candidates running for President, most of the Democrats in the Senate, and many other critical Democrats like Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and DNC Chairman Howard Dean; and in poll after poll is supported by a majority of the American people.

As I wrote: "Democrats should be viewing this ongoing GOP obsession with immigration not as something to fear but as a powerful sign of the collapse of the modern Republican Party. In 2008 the GOP cannot run on its governing accomplishments. Cannot run on its health car plan. Cannot run on its vision for our security. Cannot run on its strategy to help a struggling middle class. Cannot run on their high moral and ethical standards. Cannot run on fiscal responsibility. So what is left? An issue that nostalgically evokes the racism of their now anachronistic Southern Strategy, that doesn't even have majority support in their own Party, is reinforcing that their Party has become more interested in scoring political points than solving vexing national problems, and that is managing to anger the fastest growing part of the American electorate, Hispanics."

Our immigration system is broken. That is something we all know. We also know the American people are rightfully unhappy about it and that it has risen to be one of their top 5 or 6 issues of 2008. The real question, then, is what we are going to do about it? As Rudy argues in his new ad, leaders will bring people together, step up and fix it. Other politicians, including some in the Democratic Party, will continue do what Tancredo has done which is to confuse toughness with strong leadership. This approach has been rejected again and again, as the American people desperately seach for a politics that is not safe but bold; that is not just tough but smart and effective; that is not calculating but courageous; that is not divisive and angry but that brings us together; that once again puts the interests of Americans and their families above all else.

Immigration is one of the great early political tests of the 21st century. To date the Republicans have failed their test of whether they have what it takes to solve the emerging problems of the new century. For the good of the nation I hope the Democrats do not fail theirs.

Immigration: new laws in AZ, Hispanics in fear

More good reporting, more interesting stories these past few days.

The Pew Center released a 2nd round of research, this batch showing how the immigration debate has impacted Hispanics in the US. One incredible stat - more than half of all Hispanics in the US, legal and undocumented - 47 million people - fear someone close to them will be deported. Some analysts have argued that Hispanics don't really care all that much about the immigration debate. Hopefully the new Pew Center research will put that idea to rest.

The Times continues its strong leadership on the issue, offering insightful stories on new anti-immigrant laws that take effect in Arizona in January, and how a new wave of Hispanic immigrants are being received in rural Iowa. Both stories accurately capture the complexity of the issue, particularly the strong need in our economy for workers to do low wage, low skilled jobs.

And Rudy joins the Republican immigration ad parade, offering up this new one. He tackles the issue in a way consistent with our counsel these last few years - he defines the issue as one of leadership, and whether we have the political will and toughness to tackle tough problems. He never mentions amnesty, and talks openly about citizenship (though that is all a little vague). In general it is a very different approach from the more hysterical arguments coming from the Romney-Tancredo-Huckabee wing of the GOP.

For a deeper analysis of the current state of the immigration debate see this essay I penned earlier this week or visit our the immigration section of our main site.


Stop me before I scapegoat again

From McClatchy:

Minuteman founder endorses Huckabee

Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minuteman Project, showed up in Iowa today to endorse Republican Mike Huckabee for president, McClatchy's Barb Barrett reports from Council Bluffs.

The group is known for its own policing of the U.S-Mexico border to stop illegal immigration, and the support could help Huckabee shore up support among Republican voters concerned about his record on illegal immigration.

As he's shot up in the polls, Huckabee has come under increasing scrutiny and criticism from rivals. Among the targets is his support as governor of Arkansas for a proposal to let the children of illegal immigrants in Arkansas schools earn the same scholarships as children of citizens.

Just last week Huckabee adopted a new position on immigrants, calling for all undocumenteds to leave the country within 120 days. I guess this new plan earned him this new endorsement.

Can Democrats seize the opportunity the immigration debate offers them?

Yesterday the flailing Mitt Romney launched a new ad against Mike Huckabee for being soft on immigrants. Huckabee responds with an ad, consistent with his new nutty immigration "plan," showing how tough he is. In the special election in OH-5 that concludes today three sets of GOP ads - by the candidate, by the NRCC and now by Freedom's Watch - all focus on immigrants. Last week Tom Tancredo, still at 1 percent in the Republican race for President, launched a new and extraordinary ad that ends with these words "Deport those who don't belong. Make sure they never come back." For the GOP it has become all immigration all the time.

Two new polls help explain what is going on. A new NYTimes poll shows how much the nation has grown disenchanted with the age of Bush, and how disenchanted GOP voters have become with their own party. Our recent Republican era has left the nation weaker and the American people less safe, less prosperous, and less free. Their economic and security policies have failed to deliver. Their ratings are the lowest in a generation. They face an epidemic of retirements. Their Presidential field is the least impressive of modern times. They trail the Democrats in fundraising by hundreds of millions of dollars. Right of center politics in the US is in the midst of a sustained, deep political and ideological collapse. The party of Lincoln and Reagan has become the party of Tancredo and Dobbs.

The 2nd poll is a new LA Times poll that shows 60 percent national support for an earned path to citizenship for the 11-12 million undocumented immigrants in the country. Remarkably, this poll shows 62% support for this earned path with Republican voters. And this poll, like almost every other poll taken in the last few years shows immigration to the be the top issue with just 15 percent of all voters (see this new memo from the National Immigration Forum summarizing dozens of public polls on immigration).

In the Ohio special, and in the GOP Presidential Primary, the ads are not speaking to a general election audience but are trying mightily to get the attention of a very despondent GOP base. They are using extreme and hate-filled messages to break through, and have now adopted scapegoating immigrants as a grand national strategy. And there is simply no evidence at this point that it is working. In the MA Tsongas special recently the Republican candidate lost. In the 2007 elections in VA and NY the GOP investment in immigration did not pay off, and the Dems won key elections in both states. It also did not deliver for them in 2006 in hard fought races across the country. At the Presidential level Romney who has invested the most in the immigration issue is plummeting in Iowa. Tancredo who has bet his whole campaign on the issue is at 1 percent. 1 percent!

Democrats should be viewing this ongoing GOP obsession with immigration not as something to fear but as a powerful sign of the collapse of the modern Republican Party. In 2008 the GOP cannot run on its governing accomplishments. Cannot run on its health care plan. Cannot run on its vision for our security. Cannot run on its strategy to help a struggling middle class. Cannot run on their high moral and ethical standards. Cannot run on fiscal responsibility. So what is left? An issue that nostalgically evokes the racism of their now anachronistic Southern Strategy, that doesn't even have majority support in their own Party, is reinforcing that their Party has become more interested in scoring political points than solving vexing national problems and that is managing to anger the fastest growing part of the American electorate, Hispanics.

Smart Republicans have been sounding the alarms. In a recent Washington Post op-ed, Former Bush speech writer Michael Gerson wrote:

The political effects of conservative opposition to immigration reform have been swift as well. Latino support for GOP candidates dropped back to 30 percent in 2006. According to one poll, Latinos under age 30 now prefer a generic Democrat over a Republican for president by 42 points. A harsh, Tancredo-like image of Republicans has solidified in the mainstream Hispanic media. And all of this regression will be even more obvious in the next few months, because more than half of the Hispanic voters in America live in states that are part of the new lineup of early primaries.

I have never seen an issue where the short-term interests of Republican presidential candidates in the primaries were more starkly at odds with the long-term interests of the party itself. At least five swing states that Bush carried in 2004 are rich in Hispanic voters -- Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado and Florida. Bush won Nevada by just over 20,000 votes. A substantial shift of Hispanic voters toward the Democrats in these states could make the national political map unwinnable for Republicans.

There is a moral hazard as well. Surfing on a wave of voter resentment is easier than rowing on the calmer waters of inclusion and charity. But the heroes of America are generally heroes of reconciliation, not division.

In politics, some acts are so emblematic and potent that they cannot be undone for decades -- as when Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Goldwater was no racist; his constitutional objections were sincere. Members of the Republican Party actually voted for the Civil Rights Act in higher percentages than Democrats. But all of this was overwhelmed by the symbolism of the moment. In his autobiography, Colin Powell says that after the Goldwater vote, he went to his car and affixed a Lyndon Johnson bumper sticker, as did many other African Americans. Now Republicans seem to be repeating history with Hispanic Americans. Some in the party seem pleased. They should be terrified.

And in a great new article in the New Yorker, Return of the Nativist, Ryan Lizza reports on this conversation he had with Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, who has been a stalwart champion of immigration reform and is a backer of John McCain:

Graham read me one of the questions that his pollster asked about immigration. The poll tested voters’ opinion of three different proposals to deal with illegal immigrants: “arrest and deport”; “allow them to be temporary workers, as long as they have a job”; “fine them and allow them to become citizens only if they learn English and get to the back of the line.” In two separate polls, the majority supported the third option. The average for the first option was only twenty-six per cent.

“What it tells me is that the emotion of the twenty-six per cent is real, somewhat understandable, but if not contained could destroy our ability to grow the Party,” he said. “And I don’t think you need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that if you’re going to win a general election you have to do well with Hispanic voters as a Republican.” He continued, “My concern is that we’re going to have an honest but overly emotional debate about immigration, and we’ll say things for the moment, in the primary chase, that will make it very difficult for us to win in November. There’s a fine line between being upset about violating the law and appearing to be upset about someone’s last name.”

Graham, who is one of McCain’s staunchest supporters, had not yet seen a new poll by the Pew Hispanic Center, which reported that the gains made among Hispanic voters during the Bush era have now been erased. Nevertheless, he had a warning for Republicans: “Those politicians that are able to craft a message tailored to the moment but understanding of the long-term consequences to the country and to the Party are the ones that are a blessing. And the ones who live for the moment and don’t think about long-term consequences, demographic changes, over time have proven to have been more of a liability than an asset.” He added, “Be careful of chasing the rabbit down a hole here.”

It is simply astonishing that Democrats have not fully grasped the enormity of the opportunity immigration reform presents. Embracing comprehensive immigration reform will allow to draw a bright line distinction with the GOP on an issue where the Democratic position has majority support of the American people; has the support of a deep and broad national coalition that includes prominent religious leaders, labor, business and immigrant rights groups, elected leaders like George Bush, John McCain, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and passed a GOP-controlled Senate with 62 votes; shows they can take on the tough ones, and work to solve vexing national problems; drives a deep wedge in the GOP coalition; and makes a major overture to Hispanics, who are the key to a permanent 21st century progressive governing coalition.

For Democrats embracing comprehensive immigration reform is the right thing to do morally, legislatively and politically. Me-tooing the GOP on this one, as some Democrats have suggested, will deny the Democrats an opportunity to put the Republicans away for a very long time and commit them to a position simply inconsistent with their Party's core values. On this issue the right thing to do is not to duck - but to stand and fight.

Immigration should properly be seen by Democrats as one their greatest political and governing opportunities of this political era, and a true test of whether they have what it takes to lead the emerging America of the 21st century. The Republicans are failing their test. For the good of the country I hope the Democrats pass theirs.

Update: Several of you have rightly pointed out that there are many Democrats who do see this opportunity - they include all the Democratic Presidential candidates, almost all of the Democrats in the Senate and many Democrats in the House. Led by Harry Reid and Ted Kennedy, the Senate Democrats have worked hard these last two years to fix our broken immigration system. They passed a good bill through the Senate in 2006 and waged an intense and spirited campaign to get it done in 2007 but at the end were betrayed by a Republican Party that promised to be there and simply didn't deliver the votes.

Huckabee calls for all undocumented immigrants to leave in 120 days

In a major reversal, Mike Huckabee announced a new immigration plan that calls for the 11-12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States to leave the country in 120 days. Once back in their home countries they could then apply for legal entry to the country. While this may on the surface sound reasonable, given the numbers waiting to get into the country, it would be years before they could return, even if they wanted to. So no matter how they dress it up it is a call for the immediately expulsion of tens of millions of people living and working here in the United States each day.

No matter how you feel about the morality of the plan, or its practicality, it is amazing that the man who may win the GOP nomination is calling for the forced expulsion of 5 percent of the current American workforce. The economic and societal chaos these kinds of plans would create is almost unimaginable. After his reasonable approach to the issue in the last GOP debate, this new plan is yet more evidence of the incredible inability of today's GOP to put pragmatic progress before politics.

How far the children of Reagan have strayed. The modern conservative movement has become a feckless and irresponsible force in America, offering wild and unproven ideas, unprecedented levels of corruption and a reactionary vision of race and community simply not suited to the emerging America of the 21st century.

Huckabee is not alone of course. Earlier this week Tom Tancredo, still soaring at 1% in his race for President, launched a new TV ad that closes with this uplifting sentiment: "Deport those who don't belong. Make sure they never come back."

As NDN has been arguing for some time, this kind of approach towards immigration has had catastrophic consequences for the GOP. It is shameful that Mike Huckabee has adopted it as his own. I am looking forward to seeing him defend his new plan at the Univision debate tomorrow night.

Update: The National Immigration Forum just released an excellent summary of the immigration debate.


The GOP debate over immigration

In his nationally syndicated column today David Broder reminds us that there is, and has been, an intense debate inside the Republican Party over what to do about our broken immigration system. Up until late 2005 the GOP's position, as defined by the President, was to support the national effort to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform, a process that generated one of the most bi-partisan and broad-based coalitions in the Bush era and a good and thoughtful bill. This more open approach to Hispanics and their concerns doubled the GOP's share of the fast-growing Hispanic vote, and was critical to his two very close election wins in 2000 and 2004.

In 2006 the GOP Senate, prodded by Bush, actually passed Comprehensive Immigration Reform with the votes of all 44 Democratic Senators and 18 Republicans. But this more enlightened Republican strategy was rejected by the crumbling Congressional GOP, and a new strategy - call it the Sensenbrenner-Tancredo-Romney strategy - that demonized immigrants challenged the prevailing Bush approach. In 2006 the House GOP refused to even take up the Senate bill and immigration reform stalled. The President was so determined to fight the rise of this new approach that he appointed an Hispanic immigrant to be the RNC Chair in 2007.

When Senate Democrats reintroduced Comprehensive Immigration Reform earlier this year we saw the same tensions play out in the GOP. Despite its failure the final bill had key Senate Republican leaders backing a version of Comprehensive Immigration Reform, calling for keeping all 11 million undocumenteds in the country.

As Michael Gerson, President Bush's former speechwriter wrote recently in the Washington Post, the anti-immigrant sentiment that has prevailed in today's GOP if unchecked will likely cost the GOP the Presidency in 2008. 5 states with heavily Hispanic populations - AZ, CO, FL, NM and NV - won by Bush in 2004 could very easily now flip to the Democrats. Just adding the 4 Southwestern states to John Kerry's total in 2004 would have given him the Presidency.

As Broder details today there two GOP candidates - McCain and Huckabee - who have come out aggressively for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, recognizing as they do both the moral necessity of fixing our immigration system, and the political necessity for their own possible Presidential race next year. Thus as Democrats look to 2008, and the absolute requirement for them to win over the Hispanic vote - one of the most volatile swing voting blocks in American politics today - it would not be wise to assume that over the next 12 months the nativistic Tancredo strategy continues to trump the more enlightened Bush approach to immigration reform inside the GOP.

For more on immigration and the Hispanic vote read our new report, Hispanics Rising.  On Friday EJ Dionne wrote a hard-hitting column echoing these same themes.  

Update: Of course the Huckabee as enlightened on immigration narrative seemed too good to be true.  Matt Ortega found this story showing that Huckabee wants to revisit the idea that citizenship is a birthright.  As the now leading GOP candidate in Iowa says:

” ‘I would support changing that. I think there is reason to revisit that, just because a person, through sheer chance of geography, happened to be physically here at the point of birth, doesn’t necessarily constitute citizenship,’ he said. ‘I think that’s a very reasonable thing to do, to revisit that.’ “

EJ Dionne takes on the new GOP Know-Nothings

EJ Dionne reflects on Wednesday's GOP debate:

Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani did a fine job achieving their objectives in Wednesday's Republican presidential debate: Each thoroughly discredited the other.

They also disgraced themselves as they pandered relentlessly to the growing anti-immigrant feeling in their party.

Mike Huckabee and John McCain were the only candidates willing to suggest what now seems unmentionable: Immigrants, even those here illegally, are human beings and shouldn't be used as political playthings.

At least Tom Tancredo, the Colorado congressman whose railing against immigration has become his mission in life, was consistent with his past. He had every right to say, with glee, that his rivals were "trying to out-Tancredo Tancredo." It was a perfect description of the evening.

The CNN/YouTube debate was a depressing spectacle. There was little inspiration for the future, no sense that Republicans are grappling with why their party has become so unpopular, and few departures from rigid adherence to the party line on taxes, guns, gay rights and a slew of other questions...

....What happened on Wednesday night is actually scary. A legitimate concern over the failures of our national immigration policy is being transformed into an ugly attempt to turn immigrants into scapegoats for all our discontents. The real shame is that both Romney and Giuliani know better.

And today's Washington Post editorial page chimes in with a worthy editorial called: The Newest Nativists: Rudolph Giuliani and Mitt Romney show how fast common sense can be discarded.

Rudy, the GOP and Immigration

As readers of this blog are aware I believe the Republicans handling of the immigration issue in recent years has been catastrophic for their Party. In 2005 national Republicans, driven by a narrow slice of their electoral base, abandoned Bush's more modern approach to immigration and race and have now made scapegoating immigrants - Hispanics in particularly - a core part of what has been a clearly losing strategy. This is a topic we've covered at length here on the blog, and in the immigration section of our main site.

The struggle inside the GOP between the modern Bush and more nativistic Tancredo approaches to immigration will be on display in Miami a week from Sunday as the Republican Presidential candidates gather for their Univision debate. It promises to be quite a show. Last week NY Times columnist David Brooks explored this tension in a remarkable column about Rudy Giuiliani's evolving views on immigration. An extended excerpt:

“I’m pleased to be with you this evening to talk about the anti-immigrant movement in America,” he said, “and why I believe this movement endangers the single most important reason for American greatness, namely, the renewal, reformation and reawakening that’s provided by the continuous flow of immigrants.”

Giuliani continued: “I believe the anti-immigrant movement in America is one of our most serious public problems.” It can “be seen in legislation passed by Congress and the president.” (Republicans had just passed a welfare reform law that restricted benefits to legal immigrants.) “It can be seen in the negative attitudes being expressed by many of the politicians.”

Giuliani said, somewhat unfairly, that the anti-immigrant movement at that time continued the fear-mongering and discrimination of the nativist movements of the 1920s and the Know-Nothing movement of the 19th century. He celebrated Abraham Lincoln for having the courage to take on the anti-immigrant forces. He detailed the many ways immigration benefits the nation.

Then he turned to the subject of illegal immigration: “The United States has to do a lot better job of patrolling our borders.” But, he continued, “The reality is, people will always get in.”

“In New York City,” he said, “we recognize this reality. New York City’s policy toward undocumented immigrants is called ‘Executive Order 124.’ ” This order protected undocumented immigrants from being reported when they used city services. Giuliani was then fighting the federal government, which wanted to reverse it.

“There are times,” he declared, “when undocumented aliens must have a substantial degree of protection.” They must feel safe sending their children to school. They should feel safe reporting crime to the police. “Similarly, illegal and undocumented immigrants should be able to seek medical help without the threat of being reported. When these people are sick, they are just as sick and just as contagious as citizens.”


Just last year, I saw him passionately deliver remarks at the Manhattan Institute Hamilton Award Dinner in which he condemned the “punitive approach” to immigration, “which is reflected in the House legislation that was passed, which is to make it a crime to be an illegal or undocumented immigrant.”

To “deal with it in a punitive way,” he said then, “is actually going to make us considerably less secure than we already are.” The better approach, he continued, is to embrace the Senate’s comprehensive reform and to separate the criminal illegals from the hard-working ones.

These speeches are the real Rudy. These speeches represent the Rudy who once went overboard and declared, “If you come here and you work hard and you happen to be in an undocumented status, you’re one of the people who we want in this city.”


Of course it hasn’t turned out that way. At the moment, Giuliani and fellow moderate Mitt Romney are attacking each other for being insufficiently Tancredo-esque. They are not renouncing the policies they championed as city and state officials, but the emphasis as they run for federal office is all in the other direction. In effect, they are competing to drive away Hispanic votes and make the party unelectable in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Florida and the nation at large.

In this way, they are participating in the greatest blown opportunity in recent political history. At its current nadir, the G.O.P. had been blessed with five heterodox presidential candidates who had the potential to modernize the party on a variety of fronts. They could be competing to do that, but instead they are competing to appeal to the narrowest slice of the old guard and flatter the most rigid orthodoxies of the Beltway interest groups. Giuliani could have opened the party to the armies of dynamism — the sort of hard-working strivers who live in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx; instead he has shelved one of his core convictions.

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