Progressive Indictment | Republican Candidates Fumbling Immigration Issue


After writing about Mitt Romney`s immigration record—undistinguished, in my opinion—I started considering other ways that the immigration record of the major GOP candidates for President could be ascertained.

Of course, some candidates served in Congress and so have actual voting records. Romney did not, but we could impute a record from his rather substantial political donations, which are a matter of public record.

Another method that may be useful: looking at the records of the Congressmen who endorse a candidate.

I found such a list—and spent the better part of a day aggregating it to construct imputed grades for each candidate from the ratings provided by Americans for Better Immigration.

I paired these with the candidates` odds of getting the nomination or the presidency obtained from the betting market at Intrade.com and got the following table. (Fund raising estimates were from Open Secrets.org. Straw Poll results were from the Des Moines Register.  [Romney`s straw poll drive pays off, By Thomas Beaumont and Jonathan Roos, August 12, 2007] Note that Ron Paul and Tom Tancredo have no congressional endorsements. Neither does Newt Gingrich, but he hasn`t declared).

Candidate

Win

Odds

Nom.

Odds

ABI

Lifetime

Grade

Guest

Worker

Lifetime

Grade

Endorser average

ABI

Grade

Endorser

Average

Guest

Worker

Grade

Endorsers

 

Funds-millions

 

Ames

Straw

Poll

Giuliani

20.1%

35.7%

 

 

B-

D-

21

35.6

 1.3%

Thompson

13.4%

25.1%

C

F

B+

C-

18

 

 1.4%

Romney

 8.5%

21.4%

C+

C-

B-

C-

28

44.4

31.6%

McCain

 4.0%

 6.0%

D

F-

C+

D

27

25.3

 0.7%

Paul

 

 4.0%

B

B-

 

 

0

 3.0

 9.1%

Tancredo

 

 0.2%

A+

B+

 

 

0

 2.8

13.7%

Gingrich

 

 3.6%

D

F-

 

 

0

 

 

Huckabee

 

 

 

 

A-

B-

2

 0.9

18.1%

Brownback

 

 

D

F

B

C-

2

 2.9

15.3%

Hunter

 

 

A+

B

A-

C+

6

 1.4

 1.2%

The thing that stands out from this table: all the major GOP candidates have Congressional supporters who are substantially more inclined to patriotic immigration reform than is the average Congressman. For Thompson and Romney, that is especially the case—their endorsers averaged B+ and B- respectively, whereas the candidates themselves had ratings of F and (my estimate) B-.

And poll after poll suggests Congressmen are less supportive of immigration restriction than their constituents. Logically, therefore, we can infer that the grass roots supporters of Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson are even more likely to support immigration restriction.

Also, the strong showing of Governor Huckabee and Senator Brownback in the Iowa straw poll—both candidates ran primarily against abortion, with Brownback working the Catholics and Huckabee the Protestants—was accompanied by the endorsement of Congressional representatives markedly more prone towards immigration patriotism than the average congressman. In the case of Brownback, his Congressional supporters were dramatically more prone to immigration restriction than Brownback himself (ABI grade of B vs. D).

I suspect that both Brownback and Huckabee supporters in Iowa are even more likely to want immigration reduced than the candidates` congressional supporters. But they are sadly ill-informed of their candidate`s true positions. (Both gave lip-service to immigration reform opposing the Bush-Kennedy Amnesty/ Immigration Surge bill.) I can`t help but think that these campaigns were helped by a lack of press attention—for example, the notorious Stephanopoulos debate.

I also can`t help but ask myself: Why do we see congressmen who support immigration restriction endorsing suspect or even positively bad candidates like McCain, Giuliani, Thompson and Romney? It is as though the congressmen don`t really think the immigration is that important.

But patriotic immigration reform is about the only issue the GOP has with broad appeal. (I write here from the clear-eyed perspective of a progressive and a registered Democrat.) There are blocks of Democratic and independent voters who want immigration restriction badly—and just as many of these are prone to swing as are voters inclined towards looser borders. Yet the Republicans appear intent on throwing the issue away.

I also wonder: what is the big difference between the policies of Tancredo and Hunter that kept Hunter from leaving the race and supporting Tancredo? Tancredo`s immigration-centered campaign would be doing markedly better with that level of support Congressional support—and especially with the substantial funds Hunter has gotten. (However, I expect some of Tancredo`s recent votes on Guest Worker Visas and attempts at compromise in that area will come back to haunt him with the GOP base.)

Part of what`s happening is that many professional politicians are isolated from the effects of immigration. They simply don`t have to worry about jobs, housing, crime or social fragmentation. Often their children don`t have to even deal with public schools.

Part of it is money. It is simply hard for any major candidate to rise in national politics without supporting the wealthy on looser immigration policy—which is a very sad commentary on the US political process.

The 2008 election is unusual. Traditionally, Republicans could count on raising more funds than the Democrats. But that isn`t the case in 2008 and the immediate future. If Republicans follow business as usual in 2008, they may face a huge electoral embarrassment that would shake the foundations of their party.

Republicans need some popular issues. Immigration is the logical place to start.

The problem is that the GOP has tended to take its traditional core constituencies for granted—and failed to reach out to voters yearning for real solutions to real problems.

Note that I broke immigration down into general immigration policy and Guest Worker Visas. Guest Workers are a particularly sensitive issue. Traditionally, the core constituency of the GOP has been college-educated white males. The GOP lost that constituency in the last presidential election. I think part of the reason was the failure of the Bush administration to deliver good jobs that can support a family to that constituency. Guest worker expansion is a form of immigration that directly impacts educated workers.

But it looks like this erosion will continue. The only GOP candidate who shows the strongest current sensitivity on that issue this election appears to be Ron Paul, who is unlikely to get the nomination. (Paul`s recent grade, as opposed to the lifetime grade in my table, is A- vs. Tancredo`s surprising C+.)

Taking corporate donations to expand H-1b/L-1 visas has simply been a stupid deal for Republican politicians.

Expansion of employer sanctions may be an approach that would appeal more to Democrats. However, Republicans could specifically look at making sure that employers of immigrant labor (both legal and illegal) bear the full costs of health care, education, housing, law enforcement etc. that their activities create. There is also no excuse for members of a party that once prided itself on fiscal responsibility to be giving away H-1b visas with a market value (my calculation based on the Indian dowry market) of over $50,000. The traditional “law and order” party can treat employers who illegally employ alien felons as the criminal accomplices that they are.

The potential Presidential run of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg makes this change of direction more urgent. According to Intrade.com, there is about 37% chance Bloomberg will run as an independent—and a 4.1% chance he will win the presidency, better odds than former front runner McCain has.)

Bloomberg is pro-open bordersmindlessly so. He will appeal to those groups of swing voters most inclined towards a looser immigration policy.

Now, what I expect is the sadly likely scenario: the lack of realism on the leadership of both parties will create a crisis that will ultimately mean a major realignment of the US political process—and maybe even a major terrorist and/or constitutional crisis.

The present US political leadership will be looked upon by future history the way those leaders who failed to prevent the US Civil War are today.

Coming soon: my analysis of my own party, the Democrats.

Randall Burns [email him] holds a degree in Economics from the University of Chicago.  He works in the information technology sector and is a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University.  Burns has been active in furthering the introduction of immigration, trade, and tax realities into the progressive agenda. In 2004, he helped create the Kucinich campaign`s position paper on H-1b/L-1 visas.