For starters, I think the ideal Republican candidate just might be Hispanic — and tough on immigration. The way our politics work, you need some kind of authenticity, some kind of membership, to go after sacred cows. Not just in the Nixon to China or Sista Souljah sense, but in the sense that only members of a “special group” can challenge the orthodoxies of the self-appointed (left-wing) leadership of that group. Blacks can challenge racial quotas in ways whites can’t. Women can attack feminism in ways men can’t. Jews can criticize Israel, Catholics can challenge the Church, gays can question gay marriage, and so on. Yes, they’ll still be attacked for their heresy. But the chief weapon — charges of bigotry — is severely blunted when “one of your own” leads the assault. I don’t like it, but it is what it is.
I’ll leave James to question Goldberg’s frequent use of the word sense in this post. For a change, I don’t think Goldberg is that far off here. Perhaps the choice of Ward Connerly as an example of what he means was not the best one he could have made, given the quite limited inroads Connerly has made among other blacks specifically on affirmative action initiatives, but the basic observation about how identity politics works is a fair one. All things being equal, it is easier for a member of a particular group to make criticisms without fear of being charged with prejudice and animus. There is still the possibility of being attacked as a sell-out or a self-hater, but that is a different kind of criticism rooted in the conviction that solidarity demands conformity on certain questions. Someone who belongs to a group possesses credibility and authority with the group that outsiders don’t possess. Even political groups, which are no less subject to the pressures of their own kind of identity politics, are more likely to listen to dissent from their own members than they are to heed the critiques of opponents. One might say that this observation is so straightforward that it is not all that remarkable, but it seems to be strangely controversial all the same. There is something to be said for the idea of a “tough” immigration policy being espoused by someone who could not be automatically tagged as a nativist–not that this would stop proponents of mass immigration from flinging the charge of nativism as irresponsibly as possible–and this sort of presentation could help drive home that the biggest losers from mass immigration are lower-class workers of all races and remind the public that middle-class and lower-middle class Hispanics are not favorably disposed towards illegal immigration at all.
Goldberg himself seems to grant that this is something of an ideal fantasy, and not something that is likely to happen. He acknowledges that such a candidate doesn’t exist, but he is essentially arguing that if such a candidate did exist he would be able to neutralize a number of typical attacks on enforcement and restrictionist arguments. The biggest flaw I can see with Goldberg’s ideal candidate is that it is even more unlikely that such a candidate is going to be otherwise pro-labor, which means that he will oppose unfair competition from one direction while enabling it elsewhere in the name of free trade. There is an additional problem that, regardless of views on immigration, minority voters have few reasons to vote Republican, and identity politics and immigration policy probably aren’t going to change that. In the end, the worst that can be said of Goldberg’s argument is that it is purely idle, because he hates identity politics and would regard engaging in such identity politics as a terrible mistake.