The real hope for bipartisanship in the next Congress, at least in the afterglow of the election, is on the issue of immigration. It really wasn’t so long ago that large sections of the Republican Party, on up to their sitting President, favored the policy. Right-wing talk radio and the proto-Tea Party basically defeated it. But the high voter turnout among Latinos has those same forces modulating their tone. In fact, in a pre-emptive strike, Sean Hannity completely flipped on the issue.
We’ve gotta get rid of the immigration issue altogether. It’s simple for me to fix it. I think you control the border first, you create a pathway for those people that are here, you don’t say you gotta go home. And that is a position that I’ve evolved on. Because you know what—it just—it’s gotta be resolved. The majority of people here—if some people have criminal records you can send ‘em home—but if people are here, law-abiding, participating, four years, their kids are born here … first secure the border, pathway to citizenship … then it’s done. But you can’t let the problem continue. It’s gotta stop.
John Boehner, as noted before, also made nods in this direction in a post-election interview, saying that “a comprehensive approach is long overdue.” Establishment organs like the Bloomberg editorial board are calling comprehensive reform “inevitable.”
To be sure, immigration reform is desirable as an economic imperative. It would revitalize smaller communities, bring millions of workers into the real economy (the one that pays income and payroll taxes, among other things), increase demand and opportunity and entrepreneurship and basically all of those watchwords that America likes to tell themselves they believe in. That’s the reason to do immigration reform, because it will improve the lives of Americans on net, aside from it being the right thing to do at this stage.
But the idea that immigration reform will act like a salve to rehabilitate the Republican relationship to Hispanics is pretty far-fetched. Policy matters aside, Hispanics have turned against Republicans because Republicans have been cruel and racist toward them and their families:
The GOP doesn’t have a problem with Latino voters per se. Rather, it has a problem with a broad spectrum of voters who simply don’t feel that it’s speaking to their economic concerns. The GOP has an economic agenda tilted strongly to the benefit of elites, and it has preserved support for that agenda—even though it disserves the majority of GOP voters—with implicit racial politics.
Consider the GOP’s deeply racialized campaign against Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. What was so surprising about this—and I know I’m not the only fair-skinned English-dominant person with a Spanish surname who was genuinely shocked—was that conservatives could have easily opposed her purely on policy grounds. Sotamayor is a fairly conventional Democrat on constitutional issues, and that would have been ample reason for conservatives to criticize her. Indeed, Justice Elena Kagan was attacked on precisely those grounds. But rather than tempering opposition with at least some recognition that Sotomayor’s life story might be a great example for immigrant parents trying to raise children in difficult circumstances, the country was treated to a mass racial panic in which Anglo America was about to be stomped by the boot of Sotomayor’s ethnic prejudice. The graduate of Princeton and Yale Law, former prosecutor, and longtime federal judge was somehow not just too liberal for conservatives’ taste but a “lightweight” who’d been coasting her whole life on the enormous privilege of growing up poor in the South Bronx.
I don’t think Hispanics forgot this, and really it’s just one example. When you have national political figures on the right relating immigrants to cattle that have to be kept in a pen, that’s a serious problem that cannot be papered over with policy. This has pushed Latinos over into the Democratic camp, and after a number of years they have predictably adopted their ideological views on things like economics and social policy.
But the intolerance came first. That alienated Latinos and drove them away from the GOP. After being likened to livestock, it’s hard to keep an open mind.