Mitt Romney was one amnesty for illegal immigrants away from becoming president of the United States.
That, in essence, is the conventional wisdom following an election in which the Republican presidential candidate lost the Hispanic vote by an eye-popping 71 percent to 27 percent margin.
MSNBC political analyst Chuck Todd predicted last week that “immigration reform” will get “80 to 90 votes” in the U.S. Senate after the GOP’s great Latino lashing of 2012.
“Republicans will run, not walk, in trying to support that now,” Todd said.
So far, it’s been more like tiptoeing. House Speaker John Boehner told ABC News a “comprehensive approach” to immigration “is long overdue.”
“This issue has been around far too long,” Boehner remarked, apparently bored with musty old things like borders, national sovereignty and the rule of law.
Conservative pundits as diverse as Sean Hannity and Charles Krauthammer also apparently agree that a path to citizenship is the only path to victory, or that green cards are a get-out-of-jail-free card for Republicans.
While we’re at it, we might as well purchase apologetic Hallmark cards for George W. Bush and John McCain, who were told to run, not walk, off a short pier when they advocated this loose-border strategy before.
“Republicans find religion on immigration reform,” writes the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza. “Is it too late?”
A better question: Is this finding religion or falling for an old Beltway superstition? The boosters of amnesty in exchange for the elusive Hispanic vote may be the witch doctors of American politics.
Let’s stipulate that some Republicans have said dumb and nasty things over the course of the immigration debate, which is obviously no way to win the votes of Hispanics and recent immigrants.
Worse, the immigration debate itself has frequently been miscast as a referendum on the acceptance of Hispanics in American society — one that has forced most Republicans to appear to be on the wrong side of that question in order to be on the right side of some woefully misguided legislation.
But caving on bad legislation — or writing watered-down Republican alternatives — to address this unfortunate misconception is the easy way out.
For starters, immigration is far from the Republicans’ only problem with Hispanic voters. Proposition 187, California’s notorious 1994 anti-illegal immigration ballot initiative that supposedly lost Latinos for the GOP forever, received a higher percentage of the Hispanic vote than many Republican candidates.
Hispanics have a high labor force participation rate, but are nevertheless disproportionately poor. In 2011, more than 40 percent of Hispanics reported that they lacked health insurance, which makes Obamacare potentially appealing.
Low incomes force families to rely on government assistance. According to one study, “Households with children with the highest welfare use rates are those headed by immigrants from the Dominican Republic (82 percent), Mexico and Guatemala (75 percent), and Ecuador (70 percent).”
One survey found that 73 percent of Hispanics opposed cutting Medicare spending and 83 percent preferred to deal with the deficit by raising taxes on the wealthy in conjunction with some budget reductions.
Philosophically, a Pew Hispanic Center poll determined that 55 percent of the Latino electorate would prefer to pay higher taxes to promote a bigger government. Hispanics were also more trusting of the government compared to private charities than either whites or blacks.
“Registered Latinos who identify as Republicans take a much more liberal stand on taxes and the size of government than their white counterparts,” the Pew study states. In fact, Hispanic Republicans were to the left of white Democrats on these questions.
It’s going to take an awful lot more than additional Republican votes for the DREAM Act to paper over this ideological divide.
Bush, the Republican presidential candidate who had the most success with Hispanic voters in recent memory — while still losing this group by double digits in 2000 and 2004 — didn’t just support amnesty. He also softened the GOP message on limited government, presiding over bigger increases in discretionary spending than Bill Clinton and espousing “compassionate conservatism.”
Can we afford that kind of outreach in an era of $1 trillion annual deficits?
Many Republicans in Congress voted for the last mass amnesty in 1986, which Ronald Reagan signed into law. Even Pat Buchanan supported it. It was, by the way, openly promoted with the word “amnesty” rather than with euphemisms like “comprehensive immigration reform.”
The Republican share of the Hispanic vote actually fell in the next presidential election and the post-amnesty cohort of Hispanics are if anything less Republican in their voting habits.
That’s not to say the GOP’s inability to win over a rapidly growing demographic group isn’t a problem.
But there’s no reason, besides wishful thinking, to believe an amnesty flip-flop is the solution.
The long, arduous process of developing policies that promote assimilation and upward mobility, then waiting for those policies to work, may be the only answer.
W. James Antle III is the editor of The Daily Caller News Foundation. Follow him on Twitter.