At the Federalist, David Harsanyi dissects the sudden face-plant of the Marco Rubio campaign in New Hampshire and comes to the conclusion it’s not Rubio’s poor performance in last Saturday’s debate which did him in.
Harsanyi says there was something deeper going on. And he’s right.
Rubio, like Barack Obama before him, has been running for president since the day he joined the Senate. The guy has a lot going for him, but he disastrously misread the mood of the country with the bipartisan reform bill on immigration. In the Obama/Tea Party era, you can be a principled senator who attempts to get things done (and Rubio was almost certainly a sincere believer in immigration reform), or you can try to be president. You can’t do both. For many conservatives, immigration is the most pressing economic, political, and cultural issue the nation faces. They can absolve you of wrongdoing if you were a tepid supporter of amnesty; not if you’re part of the gang trying to push through the bill. Robot or not.
Just so. Rubio clearly has the retail and media skills of a master politician, and his allies are not wrong in touting his conservatism; the prospect of a Marco Rubio as an “establishment” presidential candidate in past cycles would have been unthinkable and we should bank that as a victory for an improved Republican Party.
But few candidates are perfect when it comes to ideological consistency, and Rubio’s fatal sin was his participation in that Gang of Eight bill. He’s going to suffer for that mistake in this cycle, because immigration — and the Beltway Republican Party’s lack of felicity on the issue — is the single defining issue of the primary campaign, if not the entire cycle.
And while Rubio is an adult and bears the blame for his own choice to join the ill-fated Gang of Eight — a good rule for freshman senators on the Republican side is to avoid anything John McCain and Lindsey Graham are seeking volunteers for — he didn’t make that decision in a vacuum.
Remember that the Gang of Eight bill was precipitated by a document released by something called the Growth and Opportunity Project, an initiative the Republican National Committee put together in an effort to diagnose why Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election. Rather than recognize that Romney was unable to speak effectively against Obamacare thanks to his having authored its forebear in Massachusetts, or note that running a Wall Street financier who lost the “cares about me” question to Obama by a 4-to-1 margin was a terrible strategy, or to lament the failure to fully mobilize the Republican electoral coalition to match the intense effort at racial and identity-group Alinskyite politics of the Obama campaign, or even to understand the miserable failure of Romney’s data operation to create a working Election Day get-out-the-vote campaign, the document’s “autopsy” of the loss came to a central conclusion that what the GOP really needs is to get more minority voters.
Which isn’t a terrible conclusion. After all, the horrendous showing by successive Republican presidential candidates among the black community has got to stop at some point particularly given the performance the Democratic Party has delivered in governing (or rather destroying) America’s cities where most blacks live. And while the narrative which says Hispanic voters are natural conservatives is badly off the mark, there is no reason why the GOP shouldn’t engage in that community and prevent it from becoming a solid Democrat voting bloc.
But what the “autopsy” offered as a vehicle for a Republican resurgence in the Hispanic community was a patently stupid full-on retreat on immigration policy. That somehow Hispanic citizens, a large number of whom are working-class people whose wages have been stagnant since 2000 amid a flood of immigrants both legal and illegal and whose communities — schools, hospitals, and streets — are groaning with the burden of that flood on social services, would immediately run to the GOP if only it capitulated to the Democrats on a “comprehensive” immigration reform that would make voters out of 12 million illegal aliens.
As though the Democrats, who have devised such things as sanctuary cities, welfare benefits, and driver’s licenses for illegals, and the prohibition as “racist” of even referring to illegal aliens as illegal aliens, wouldn’t be able to claim the credit for an amnesty that led to those 12 million new voters over time.
The autopsy was badly received by the GOP base, which had vivid memories of the 2007 immigration fight and already distrusted the party on the issue. But when Gang of Eight came along in 2013, lots of Republican voters, not to mention Republican-leaning independents, wrote off the party establishment as little more than a sellout to corporate fatcats looking for cheap labor. Though that distrust didn’t flower in the 2014 midterms thanks to the wreckage Barack Obama has made of the Democratic Party, it was only a matter of time before it blossomed.
And it did, as soon as Donald Trump painted a picture of Mexican rapists and murderers pouring across the border. Trump was castigated as a racist and a buffoon for those comments, and punished by business partners like Univision and Macy’s for his blasphemy against the gods of multiculturalism, and no sooner did that backlash make headlines but a Mexican illegal shot and killed a local resident, Kate Steinle, on the San Francisco pier. That was all Trump needed to make immigration the pre-eminent issue of the cycle. Before long many of the other candidates, like for example Scott Walker, weren’t just talking about illegal immigration but legal immigration as well. Outside of Cruz, few of them were able to make much hay on the issue because they had been guilty just as Rubio was of actually heeding the advice of that autopsy.
Jeb Bush, who has gone through the better part of $100 million and still has no path to victory, is still heeding it.
For his part, Rubio, who is a lot more savvy than Bush, has been so desperate to escape the stench of Gang of Eight that he’s attempted to paint Cruz with it for having offered a poison pill amendment that had the effect of killing the bill.
The fact is, nobody (with the possible exception of Cruz) has mounted a cogent defense of smart immigration policy among the GOP to date and that’s one reason why none of the more experienced candidates have been able to seize the initiative from Trump.
This is perplexing, because such a defense is really not that difficult. It starts by demanding the media and the Washington elite recognize that skepticism of open-borders immigration is neither bigotry nor xenophobia, and that the Alinskyite attacks on open-borders opponents are un-American and offensive.
Next, it points out that throughout American history there have been periods of robust immigration but always, until the current protracted influx, a retrenchment and a focus on assimilation of those already here has followed. And it argues we are overdue for such a slowdown in immigration — legal and illegal — for reasons cultural, educational, geopolitical, and economic.
Then it makes the economic argument for such a slowdown using simple facts. Namely, that labor participation in this country is at an alarming low, that young Americans coming out of school are desperate to find full-time jobs, that Americans who are members of ethnic minorities are struggling mightily to climb aboard the economic ladder, and most of all that the standard of living of the average American has been stagnant for more than a decade. The argument follows that if wages are stagnant, and on net all jobs created in America over the past 15 years have gone to immigrants, then the easiest way to improve the lot of the working class is a tighter labor market which makes corporate America a lot friendlier to regular citizens looking for work.
Further, that the Democrats’ key issues — free college tuition, student loan amnesty, single-payer health insurance, a minimum wage hike — are all government giveaways aimed at compensating middle-class Americans for the economic damage they’ve done preventing regular folks from getting ahead, and that tighter labor market eliminates the need for most if not all of those initiatives at no cost to the taxpayer.
The added benefit to this is it puts immigration advocates firmly on the side of economic growth and the tax and regulatory policies that make it possible. Because a booming economy will need more immigrants to supplement the native labor force as the tide rises, and when that economy comes to pass the dreams of major immigration reform are far more realistic — at some indeterminate future time when middle-class Americans, rather than the Beltway elite, reach a consensus for it.
As to the question of illegals and whether they self-deport or are rounded up, that’s a trap no GOP candidate should allow himself to fall into. The easy answer is that whatever else is done we’re going to get rid of all the criminals who show up here and we’re not going to allow any more illegals to come in, and beyond that we’ll do what we’re able to enforce the law.
But no one on the GOP side has bothered to point out, other than Cruz during his fight against Gang of Eight, that all the Democrats really care about is trying to make bloc voters out of illegals and as such they’re bad-faith negotiating partners who don’t have the interests of ordinary Americans at heart.
That’s largely due to the fact the Republican Party establishment thinks that playing along with the Democrat plan on immigration is somehow a winner. It takes cojones to depart from that stupid autopsy/Gang of Eight conventional wisdom. Only Trump and Cruz have ventured out of that tent and one of them will be rewarded with the GOP nomination.
And Rubio will not. For reasons, as David Harsanyi rightly recognizes, which go deeper than what Chris Christie did to him last Saturday.
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