Opinion

Scott Walker’s Populist Immigration Pander

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor

Life moves pretty fast. Just after I submitted my column on soon-to-be-presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s appeal to populist conservatives, Scott Walker (who already has a blue collar thing going for him) started questioning the impact legal immigration might have on American jobs.

This can be seen as both a flip-flip and a demagogic pander. There’s actually a debate to be had over whether or not illegal immigration costs jobs in the long run. Most people only do the part of the math that says more workers equals more supply (of labor), and thus lower wages. They don’t do the part of the math that says more people equals more demand for all sorts of products and services. Or the part that says more people equals more ideas. (There is more to this, of course, but the long and short of it is they are looking at this from a static perspective instead of a dynamic one.)

It’s interesting that having spent the last few years worrying about illegal immigration, we’re now getting around to hand-wringing about legal immigration. From a branding perspective, it is one thing for the GOP to be the “anti-illegal immigration” party, and quite another to be the “anti-immigration” party. This only serves to confirm deep-seated suspicions about the GOP. But branding be damned — there are votes to get!

Now, I could go into much greater detail about why I think Walker’s ostensible worries are misplaced. One could certainly argue that automation poses a more serious long-term threat; would he propose we ban creative destruction? In any event, I can only make these arguments so many times (if you care to hear more, here are 5 reasons conservatives should support more Hispanic immigration).

Putting aside our major differences over the substance of this policy, as well as the long-term problems this creates for a Republican Party that has lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, the plain truth is that this is probably smart short-term politics for a candidate hoping to win the Republican nomination.

This only confirms to me that Walker’s team is spotting the same opening to attract an under-served constituency that I write about in my Huckabee piece: “As a political observer, I can’t help but suspect that there is a huge opening for a conservative candidate willing to be the working man’s conservative.”

The fundamental problem for the GOP might be that there is an incentive problem. There’s a huge difference between what makes smart short-term sense for an individual candidate hoping to win a primary, versus what makes smart long-term sense for a party and a movement hoping to win the future.

So there’s essentially a conflict between what is urgent and what is important. And anyone who’s ever tried (and failed) to actually apply the lessons taught in leadership books and business seminars knows that — in the real world — the urgent almost always takes precedence over the important.

Note: Matt Lewis’ wife formerly consulted for Ted Cruz’s senate campaign, and currently consults for RickPAC.