Rove slams critics, low-immigration political strategy

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The 2016 GOP presidential candidate can’t win by just trying to boost turnout among white voters, said Karl Rove, the architect of President George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 wins and of Bush’s outreach to Hispanics.

To win, “Republicans must now do two things: turn out more white voters and improve their performance among Hispanics, African-Americans and Asian-Americans,” said Rove, who is aligned with the GOP’s business-wing that supports the Senate’s pending immigration bill.

Rove’s pitch was a response to GOP activists who say the party should pivot away from businesses’ priorities — including the immigration bill — and toward the interest of lower-income American voters, including Hispanics and African-Americans.

Many of those lower-income voters stayed home in 2008 and 2012, helping President Barack Obama win both elections.

The GOP can increase its support among the large bloc of average and lower-income voters by defeating the pending immigration bill, according to GOP leaders such as Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, Gov. Sarah Palin, and Jenny Beth Martin, a national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots network. They’re not part of the GOP inner-circle, but they’ve got some clout.

“I am an ardent supporter of legal immigration … [and public] opposition to this fundamentally transforming amnesty bill will galvanize the grassroots in next year’s elections,” Palin wrote in a June 23 op-ed.

“We [should] move away from ethnic politics and we try to appeal to all people based on what’s best for America and for them,” Sessions said June 23 on CBS’ “Face The Nation” show.

If the immigration bill passes, the doubled inflow of low-skill immigrations and guest-workers “will be a hammer blow to poor and working-class Americans,” Sessions said in the Senate on Thursday.

A focus on ordinary Americans’ wages and work — not additional immigration — will help bring more Hispanics to the GOP, he said. “Hispanics are here today by the millions. They’re working in the $20,000-$40,000 income level. Their wages will be impacted adversely. Their ability to get a job and retirement benefits and health care benefits. Somebody needs to speak up for them,” he said on the CBS show.

The claim that GOP candidates can’t win without an immigration deal, including amnesty, “is extraordinarily sloppy thinking — groupthink at its worst,” said Sean Trende, a vote-analyst at RealClearPolitics.com.

“I don’t see any compelling reason why… a Republican couldn’t begin to approach Ronald Reagan’s 30-point win with whites from 1984… It’s not necessarily the most likely scenario, but it strikes me as more likely than a Democrat winning 90 percent of the Hispanic vote,” he wrote Tuesday.

Trende’s message was echoed by Jay Cost, another GOP vote-counter. “Too many voters still see the GOP as a bunch of rich, aloof plutocrats,” he wrote June 28. “If Republicans want to return to the political majority, they need to stand, forcefully and unequivocally, for the middle class and against special interests,” Cost said.

Other Republicans want to delay an immigration bill until after 2014 or 2016, when a stronger GOP could have a larger role. That’s the pitch from Bill Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard.

Rove pushed back on Thursday, in an editorial published in the Wall Street Journal.

“To have prevailed over Mr. Obama in the electoral count, [GOP candidate Mitt] Romney would have had to carry 62.54 percent of white voters in 2012,” Rove wrote. “That’s a tall order, given that Ronald Reagan received 63 percent of the white vote in his 1984 victory,” he added.

But even an ambitious one-third increase in Hispanic support for the GOP isn’t enough, Rove acknowledged.

“Had [Romney] received 35 percent of the Latino vote instead of the 27 percent he did, Mr. Obama would still have won by roughly 4,083,340 votes,” Rove wrote.

“A higher turnout among whites (to 2008 levels) and a small increase in the GOP share of the white vote (say raising it one percent to 60 percent), along with a somewhat better performance among Latinos (say 35 percent), and Mr. Romney would have landed in the White House,” he concluded.

Rove didn’t offer a plan for spurring white turnout to 2008 levels, or even to the record levels he achieved in 2004.

Rove didn’t mention Palin or Sessions, but instead attributed the high-wage, low-immigration political strategy to the diverse triumvirate of “Phyllis Schlafly, Pat Buchanan and the Center for Immigration Studies.”

Rove is influential in the business wing of the GOP which backs the immigration bill, partly because the bill would increase the inflow of low-wage workers and of additional consumers. The business wing is influential, partly because it contributes most of the GOP’s campaign-trail advertising cash, but also because its members have many social ties with GOP officials and legislators.

The business wing looks to established GOP leaders, such as former Gov. Jeb Bush, to run for president in 2016. Bush has lauded diversity, and he says the immigration bill will expand the economy.

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham has strongly pushed this argument. “For GOP to adopt a practical solution to illegal immigration is a step in the right direction and will help us grow our numbers,” he said in a June 28 tweet.

GOP supporters of the Senate bill say passage of an immigration deal would help take the hot-button issue off the table for 2016, and weaken Latino support for the Democratic candidate.

Many GOP politicians seem to be avoiding both sides of the argument. On Thursday, 13 GOP Senators voted for the immigration bill, and 32 voted against the bill.

The GOP’s congressional leaders, Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, have not publicly picked sides. However, McConnell put up little resistance in the Senate to the immigration bill, and Boehner repeatedly says he wants to pass an immigration bill.

House Republicans are split, and are debating their next move.

Some House Republicans are openly skeptical about the Latino-first strategy.

“We’re running around like chickens with our heads cut off thinking that we have to do this for political reasons,” said Idaho Republican Rep. Raúl Labrador. “If we start pandering and giving out goodies to people, then we’re going to get into a bidding war … and if we get into a bidding war, we always lose, because the Democrats are always more willing to give goodies to certain groups than we are,” he told reporters Thursday.

Rove’s critics say the GOP will doom itself it it passes the immigration bill, which is expected to nudge down wages, force more Americans to compete in their workplaces against low-wage foreigners, and help bring 46 million Democrat-leaning immigrants into the country by 2033. The foreign-born population of the country will reach one-in-six by 2033.

In 2004, GOP president George W. Bush reached 40 percent of the Latino vote, in a race against Massachusetts Democrat Sen. John Kerry during an economic boom that was goosed by Rove’s use of government regulations to boost Hispanic home-buying to record levels.

Rove’s Latino homeownership plan went bust with the 2007 housing crash, and Rove’s outreach to Hispanics crashed in 2008, leaving Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain with 31 percent of the Latino vote.

The 2008 crash left the GOP facing a Democratic monopoly in Washington on January 2009. That monopoly lasted until 2010, when a wave of tea party voters won back the House — and the power to block most progressive priorities, perhaps including the new immigration bill.

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