When a political party loses an election, either it learns and adapts or it bristles and digs into a trench of electoral failure.
After the Democrats lost their third straight landslide in 1988, they got smart and elected an Arkansas Democrat who broke through the GOP’s southern grip.
In 2000, the Bush campaign realized the Republican Party looked white and cranky. It seems like ancient history before 9/11 and Iraq and Afghanistan but Bush ran as a compassionate conservative.
Remember when he said that our failing schools, especially in the inner-city, suffered from “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
He was right politically and morally. It’s time for the GOP to be right politically and morally again. This time the issue is immigration reform.
My second greatest regret about the Bush presidency (after the decision to invade Iraq) is that he didn’t start his second term with immigration reform. Presidents need the wisdom to understand what issues are their issues and which issues should be left to successors. We weren’t ready for social security reform but we were ready for immigration reform.
By the time Bush got to immigration reform, it was too late. In 2007, the GOP had been crushed in the previous election. The GOP lost the House and Senate. The levers of power no longer worked as smoothly as 2005.
Even with Ted Kennedy’s support, the GOP needed Harry Reid to pass the legislation. Reid wasn’t about to give the GOP that triumph. So it died an ignominious death. Immigration reform’s champions like Kyl, McCain, Flake and Shadegg were bloodied and bruised.
The political message was that immigration reform was the new third rail of politics for Republicans. Touch it at your own peril.
Since then the handful of brave Republicans who publicly supported comprehensive immigration reform were loudly accused of amnesty and treason. The business leaders who advocated for a humane policy were boycotted and accused of putting “profit before patriotism.”
The entire conversation devolved into a hyperbolic convulsion of who can be tougher on the issue.
In Arizona, Russell Pearce built what seemed like an impenetrable wall around the Republican Party that demanded strict adherence to his immigration orthodoxy. In truth, this orthodoxy was re-packaged John Birch Society rhetoric from the 60’s with the bright shiny bow of border security tied around it.
“Close our borders.”
“We are being infiltrated.”
Straw men arguments were fabricated to enforce ideological purity. The problem with straw men is simple. Sometimes they work short-term but soon enough voters figure it out and the proponents of weak arguments come crashing down in defeat.
Russell Pearce has now lost two straight elections. Joe Arpaio only got 52% of the vote in a county that Romney won decisively.
Demographics are rapidly moving against the GOP on this issue. Romney only received 21% of the Latino vote.
That is catastrophic. If it continues, the GOP will join the trash bin of history along with the Whig party.
Some Arizona Republicans have looked like George Wallace standing in front of the school door when it comes to this generation’s civil rights struggle.The good news is the GOP can change.
It must change.
It must get on the right side of history.
I know many first and second generation Latinos. Not one of them came to this country to create a “new” Mexico within our borders. Not one of them came here to break our laws or hurt our country.
They came here because they want to be part of the greatest experiment in human history – a representative democracy. They believe America is a “shining city on a hill.” They left tyranny and poverty. In many cases they risked their lives crossing a scorching desert to make a better life for themselves and their children.
We are a land of immigrants. The opportunity of America isn’t confined to those here now. We must create comprehensive reform that affords the American dream to far more than currently have the chance. By so doing, we will embrace the patch they will place on the American quilt.
Dramatically reforming our immigration laws is this generation’s civil rights struggle.
Dramatically changing conservative rhetoric about the issue is this Republican generation’s moral and political calling.