Matt Lewis makes the case that Jeb Bush has a point about the way Republicans deal with immigration. He quotes Bush as saying, ““Don’t just talk about Hispanics and say immediately we must have controlled borders. Change the tone would be the first thing. Second, on immigration, I think we need to have a broader approach.”
But it seems to me that Bush is repeating the same mistake he is counseling Republicans to avoid: treating Hispanics as a monolithic voting bloc to be appealed to on the basis of immigration. Polling has found that Hispanics frequently have ambivalent attitudes about immigration, which is understandable since immigrants are both relatives and economic competitors. When Barack Obama took office in 2009, the Pew Hispanic Center found that immigration ranked second to last — above energy policy but below education — among Latinos’ priorities for the new administration.
That’s not to say the immigration issue can’t hurt Republicans when framed as a referendum on whether to accept Hispanics as a part of American society. But economic assimilation — which can be aided by slower immigration — will accomplish more than an immigration-centric approach, since Hispanics, however hardworking, will still favor the party of activist government as long as they remain disproportionately poor.
Finally, while Ronald Reagan is a good model for Republicans, his 1986 amnesty failed and he never got more than 37 percent of the Hispanic vote.