Friday, July 07, 2006

Immigration and the Republican base

Last month I happened to see the story of a Utah Republican primary, which was purportedly being watched by the party because it would demonstrate whether a challenger supporting enforcement-only immigration policy could upend the incumbent. Further, I speculated that it could be a test case that would inform Republicans about how the issue would play in swing districts.

Matthew disagreed, concluding, “I just don't think 'enforcement only' politics is primarily about the base.” I thought it was worthy of further speculation.

If I understand him correctly, then the argument is that Republicans see immigration as an issue important to everyone, but not something that could whip up the base. As I’ve discussed many times, I agree with the former (the “will of the people” argument pops up constantly). But I think Republican leaders do believe the latter, even though President Bush is not on their side—I think they are likely wrong, but they believe it.

The reason is that enforcement-only is a neat little package encompassing many points of concern to the base. Concerned about security? Enforcement-only appeals to those concerned about national security. You can portray Democrats as soft and unwilling to enforce the laws that could prevent terrorists from entering the country.

You can then use the word “amnesty” to characterize how Democrats want to break the law. Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who is fighting an uphill battle for re-election, is putting immigration front and center, and doing exactly that.

Concerned about jobs? You can blame the influx/tide/wave/invasion of illegal immigrants. They are ready-made scapegoats.

Concerned about the erosion of American culture? It is due to the fact that we encourage law breaking while accepting the encroachment of Spanish. Those multiculturalist Democrats invite the destruction of our heritage. I would argue that all the talk about English-as-national-language is akin to the gay marriage fiasco, where Republicans bring up a sure loser just to prove to the base that its values are being fought for.

Furthermore, in Charlotte there have several high profile cases in which illegal immigrants from Mexico have killed others while driving drunk. Rep. Sue Myrick in particular has been vocal about how an enforcement-only policy would prevent crimes from being committed in the first place.

The cultural aspect also implicitly includes the fear of a large number of darker-skinned Catholic people with different (read potentially dangerous) customs. Even political scientists like Samuel Huntington play into that. Our national identity is at stake if these people continue coming. It is a sort of cultural nationalism the Republican base can relate to.

I think that Republicans overestimate how much their constituents care about immigration, but I see them making this more prominent as we get closer to November to make sure their people don’t just stay home.


MSS 2:17 PM  

I don't quite follow. It is not as if campaign appeals must be aimed at either the "base" or "everyone."

I was suggesting that the appeals are as much targeted at swing voters as at the base. If the issue works for both--i.e. increasing turnout of a base that might otherwise be demoralized and preventing defections of moderates who might otherwise be "change" oriented--then it is the perfect issue for the GOP in what should be a difficult year for it.

Greg Weeks 4:00 PM  

You're right that it potentially works for both, but I still get the impression that the hard talk is aimed at the base. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that swing voters will less likely be swayed by the apocalyptic tone.

It is rather depressing if, in fact, swing voters also respond to that tone. I hope I'm not being too optimistic about those voters...

MSS 5:45 PM  

And I hope I am not being too pessimistic about them!

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