GOP senators haven’t gauged political impact of immigration

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
Font Size:

Republican senators say they haven’t studied the electoral impact of passing the pending immigration bill, which would double immigration rates and ensure the arrival of 46 million Democratic-leaning immigrants during the next 20 years.

“I don’t think anyone really knows what the full ramifications of this are,” Republican Sen. John Thune told The Daily Caller.

It may help the GOP’s outreach to Hispanics, he said, but it may also alienate many Americans who oppose legalization for 11 million illegal immigrants and 35 million new immigrants.

“There’s always that possibility as well, and I don’t know that there has been any statistical analysis of how it all shakes out,” said Thune, who is the third-ranked leader in the Senate GOP.

Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso waived off the concern that American voters may walk away from the GOP if it endorses a huge immigration influx during a period when 20 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed.

“I haven’t heard any of that discussion,” said Barrasso, who runs the GOP’s Senate think-tank, the Republican Policy Committee.

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander also downplayed the risks of an electoral rejection. “I don’t think this bill is about Republican turnout in the next election,” he told TheDC.

But leaders in the GOP’s conservative base — and numerous surveys and polls — say the bill is deeply opposed by GOP stalwarts whose support is needed in every election.

If the bill become law, “white turnout will be decreased, any [support from] black Republicans or conservatives or independents will be decreased … and any Latino conservative or independent vote that would think about voting for the Republican Party is not going to be vote for the Republican Party,” predicted Niger Innis, a spokesman for the TeaParty.net group.

The bill is opposed by most likely GOP voters, but the pandering is offensive to minorities who might wish join a mainstream GOP, he said.

Eighty-five percent of leaders in the Tea Party Patriots group oppose the bill, Jenny Beth Martin, the group’s cofounder, told TheDC.

“If Congress passes this bill, Democrats will get the credit [among Latino voters] and Republicans will get the blame” from the anti-amnesty majority of voters, said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

In 2014, “it makes a real possibility they will lose the House [of Representatives, because] … supporters just won’t show” up at the ballot box, he said.

In Europe, voters have already punished left-wing and right-wing political parties that favor high-levels of immigration, he said. Parties in France, the United Kingdom, Sweden and other countries have reformed their policies to reduce inflow and to exclude low-skilled immigrants.

The threat of a reduced GOP turnout is being highlighted by postmortems of the 2012 election, in which roughly 6 million GOP-leaning, working-class and middle-class white voters failed to appear.

“The next Republican would win narrowly if he or she can motivate these ‘missing whites,’ even without moving the Hispanic (or Asian) vote,” concluded a new analysis of county voting data by Sean Trende, at RealClearPolitics.com.

White turnout fell from 67.2 percent in 2004, to 66.1 percent in 2008, to 64.1 percent in 2012, said a May report from the Census Department.

In 2012, despite the missing white voters, whites comprised 74.3 percent of the electorate, while Latinos comprised only 8.5 percent, Trende estimated. In the period immediately after the election, many media outlets claimed the Hispanic share of the electorate was 10 percent.

For 2016, “the GOP still has something of a choice,” said Trende.

It can seek votes from lower-income American voters by “abandoning some of its more pro-corporate stances … [and try to be] more ‘America first’ on trade, immigration and foreign policy, less pro-Wall Street and big business in its rhetoric, more Main Street/populist on economics,” he said.

However, the GOP instead “seems to be taking a different route, trying to appeal to Hispanics through immigration reform and to upscale whites by relaxing its stance on some social issues,” said Trende.

“With the right candidate it could be doable … [and it] is certainly the route that most pundits and journalists are encouraging the GOP to travel,” he added.

That’s the route pushed by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who recently told a press event at the Bipartisan Policy Center that the GOP should back the immigration bill, embrace cultural diversity and woo Latino votes with a good economy and government help.

“If we just play the game where we are for less government [and say] ‘We don’t believe in muscular government,’ that message is not aspirational, it is not very hopeful, it’s not particularly optimistic and we could lose,” said Bush, who is expected by many observers to run for the White House in 2016 or 2020.

That’s also the policy option by promoted by Sen. Lindsey Graham, the primary GOP advocate behind the so-called Gang of Eight immigration bill.

“If this [immigration] bill fails because the Republican Party doesn’t seem to be practical, doesn’t seem to have been willing to admit that 11 million people are here and they’re not going to self-deport, we’ll pay a heavy price in 2016,” he said June 16.

A presidential “victory will be almost impossible for us,” he claimed.

However, when asked by TheDC is the immigration bill would depress turnout by the white GOP votes, Graham denied turnout was a problem.

“It is not true” that GOP turnout fell, he said.

He quickly switched the subject to the GOP’s share of the white voters. The white share “fell for president Obama,” he said. “We got more white voters percentage-wise than we did in 2008,” he said. “61 percent,” he added.

Some Democrats who are working to pass the immigration bill also also make the same argument.

“Voting against this bill is a political disaster for the Republican Party,” Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist working with the Campaign for an Accountable, Moral and Balanced Immigration Overhaul, told The Hill newspaper.

“They need to be reminded there are sound policy reasons to vote for it but also significant political reasons as well,” he claimed.

The same pitch is made by libertarian and industry-funded advocates, such as those funded by Facebook founder Marc Zuckerberg. They argue the the immigration bill will spur the economy by increasing consumption and the size and productivity of the unskilled and skilled labor forces.

Thune and other GOP senators echo this policy argument.

“I do think that, from a policy viewpoint, it is something we would like to solve,” Thune said.

But GOP senators also say an immigration bill could spur GOP support among Latinos.

Passage of a bill “may help put the two parties on a level playing field,” Alexander said. “Then I think we will do pretty well because many of the values of the Republican Party are the values of Latino voters,” he added.

“If we can get this [immigration] issue in the rear-view mirror, then we can win the economic argument,” Thune said.

That prediction is disputed by some advocates and much data.

In February, President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign manager scoffed at the GOP’s outreach to Hispanics. “The bigger problem they’ve got with Latinos isn’t immigration. It’s their economic policies and health care. The group that supported the president’s health care bill the most? Latinos,” David Plouffe told The New York Times.

In January, Latino Decisions — a California-based polling firm that backs increased immigration — conducted a poll of Latino voters and concluded that the GOP could get up to 42 percent of the Latino vote by backing an amnesty bill. That’s up to 15 points more than Gov. Mitt Romney won in 2012, but it remains far less than 50 percent of Latino voters, whose numbers will be dramatically boosted after 2020 by the immigration bill.

Bush sought to downplay GOP worries about a new wave of Latino immigrants who would be eligible to vote after 2024. “My hope is … they will not apply for citizenship,” Bush said.

The GOP’s emphasis on hopes and unverified predictions stands in sharp contrast to Obama’s successful 2012 campaign, which intensively polled many segments of the electorate to track the effect of political ads, speeches, debates and the impact of emotional messages versus economic messages. Obama’s research and polling guided his ads and speeches — he told one audience to vote for “revenge” against Romney — and was so precise that it accurately predicted the results in every state.

Current data suggests that the GOP would do well with all voters by backing “a policy that shows solidarity with working-class Americans through tightened immigration,” Krikorian said. But the pro-American policy should not “be angry or nasty,” because Americans don’t want to be hostile to minorities or immigrants, he said.

The GOP’s current pandering toward Hispanic voters is “absurd,” Innis said.

The GOP’s leadership have let themselves be bullied and blackmailed by the progressive media, said Innis. “When it come to race, whites are extraordinarily defensive, gun-shy and politically correct because of the traumatic experience of slavery … [so] they can easily be bullied or blackmailed,” he said.

“Pun intended,” he added.

The GOP would do well if it treated Latinos as normal Americans who worried about normal issues, Innis said. The GOP immigration pitch should be “we want you to be part of America … just do it the right way,” he said.

“That message will sell with white Americans, black Americans, Latino Americans and with immigrants,” he said.

Follow Neil on Twitter