Gerson’s 2007 Immigration Bill Myth
Michael Gerson engages in some myth-making on immigration:
Considered individually, these messages and policies make sense. Taken together, they are a strategic failure. Romney is being careful and reasonable on immigration in the midst of a five-alarm political fire. Latino support for Republicans has been dropping since conservatives blocked President George W. Bush’s attempt at comprehensive immigration reform.
The fight over the immigration legislation that Bush supported was only five years ago. It’s not as if no one can remember how thoroughly unpopular the provisions of the actual bill were with broad sections of both parties. It was a remarkable bill in that it managed to be a compromise that most people could loathe: there were amnesty or amnesty-like provisions that conservatives couldn’t accept, and the guest-worker provision angered labor unions because they believed workers in the program would be exploited. Conservatives were certainly very opposed to the bill, but to portray the defeat of the 2007 bill simply as a conservative-led Republican rejection ignores the significant number of Democrats opposed to the bill for various reasons. Public opinion was also strongly against the passage of the bill. Passing the bill would not have been good policy or smart politics.
It is also too simplistic to link the drop in Latino support for the GOP to conservative opposition to the 2007 bill. Latino support for Republicans was likely going to continue dropping from its 2004 level of 40% for a number of reasons. Like many other voters, Hispanic voters had already turned sharply against Republicans in Congress in the 2006 midterms. Many Latino voters were alienated from the GOP between 2004 and 2006 for many of the same reasons that drove independents and moderates away from Republican candidates: the war in Iraq, corruption, and the perception of overall incompetence. The movement of Latino voters out of the Republican column had already started when the Republican Party’s leadership was aligned with Bush’s position on immigration, and it continued in 2008 despite the presidential nomination of the most well-known Republican advocate for the defeated immigration bill. Passing the immigration bill in 2007 was not likely to have changed any of this, since many groups of voters repudiated the GOP in 2008 because of the recession and the financial crisis. The GOP’s agenda on a wide range of other issues besides immigration isn’t appealing to most Latino voters, and nothing has changed in the last four years that would make it any more appealing. Adopting an immigration policy that would satisfy Michael Gerson isn’t going to remedy declining Latino support for the GOP, because the causes of that declining support go far beyond any one issue.