CPAC tackles immigration: Labrador urges Republicans to ‘speak like moderates’

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Maybe it’s a sign of the times, but CPAC wasted little time before tacking the immigration issue.

The first speech kicked off at 9 a.m., and by 10:45, immigration was front-and-center with a panel discussion titled, “Respecting Families and the Rule of Law: A Lasting Immigration Policy.”

Predictably, much of the conversation dealt with how conservatives who support securing the border must also adopt a more compassionate tone when discussing immigration.

And perhaps the most interesting remarks came from Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), one of the five panelists, who insisted that Democrats will face a difficult challenge in keeping their coalition together. After all, they will be forced to choose between labor unions and Hispanic immigrants (they always choose the unions, Labrador said, citing the failed 2007 reform effort that then-Sen. Barack Obama helped kill).

But Labrador’s best lines came when he discussed immigration rhetoric. Lamenting that we have too many Republicans who speak like conservatives and and act like moderates, Labrador averred: “We need Republicans who can speak like moderates and act like conservatives.”

The line will be easy to misrepresent. Some fire-breathing conservatives will surely see this as an attack on their bomb-throwing ways. And some liberals will see this as an admission conservatives want to mislead the public about their secret right-wing intentions.

But I think Labrador is right on message. And it reminded me of Mike Huckabee’s famous line: “I’m a conservative, he said, “but I’m not mad at anyone about it.”

In any event, Labrador doesn’t think the GOP’s tonal problem is pervasive — and certainly not worthy of the negative image that has plagued them. “You have five Republicans that have that [harsh] rhetoric,” he said.