By ROSS KAMINSKY
Why Marco Rubio and his gang are correct — and it has nothing to do with amnesty.
It has recently become fashionable in conservative circles to attack Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” for putting forward a framework of principles for reform of America’s broken immigration system. The critiques from serious thinkers such as Utah Senator Mike Lee (perhaps my single favorite member of the U.S. Senate) and my American Spectator colleague Larry Thornberry, usually revolve around the word “amnesty” and suggest that Sen. Rubio is somehow caving in to leftist ideas in the way we normally expect from RINO and “establishment” Republicans, not from Tea Party champions.
These criticisms, both of the framework and of Senator Rubio, are misguided. They represent — but not for the reasons most people think — a primary cause of President Obama’s winning a second term and the primary reason that the GOP will have little chance at better future results unless the party — and the perception of the party — change dramatically.
The importance of the immigration debate is not mostly about its impact on several million Spanish-speaking illegal aliens (a term I don’t shy away from using). It is not even mostly about the economic impacts of immigration (a debate for another day). Instead, it is about how an ever-increasing number of voters view the Republican Party even if they have little interest in the details of immigration policy.
It is understandable that many on both sides of the political aisle argue over whether Hispanic voters are a naturally “conservative” constituency which has been turned off by the Republican position on immigration and related issues (such as in-state tuition for illegal aliens who were brought here at a young age by their parents) or whether they are a low-education, low-skill group whose desire or need for welfare and other public benefits makes them a target-rich environment for big-government Democrats.
Those who argue for the latter often point out that polls show Hispanics are no more interested in the immigration issue than the American electorate as a whole, concluding that Republicans are fooling themselves by thinking that caving into liberal immigration reform will increase the GOP share of the Hispanic vote.
Whether correct or not, this argument, like the current criticisms of the Gang of Eight framework, misses the point.
Republicans are not losing Hispanics because the party is perceived as anti-Hispanic or even hawkish on border enforcement. After all, that would not adequately explain the fact that according to exit polls Asian-Americans (who are not Hispanic and who tend to immigrate here legally) voted for Barack Obama by one percentage point more than Hispanics did.
The political impact of the immigration issue should not be seen principally as about immigrants. Rather, combined with Republican opposition to civil unions or gay marriage, it is part of a picture easily painted by Democrats and liberal media of the GOP as intolerant and bigoted.
The results among Hispanics and Asians reflect not that they have strong opinions about immigration, but that they see the Republican Party as bigots. They may not care very much about immigration as an issue, but that does not mean they do not view the political landscape through a lens of (in)tolerance and (un)openness for which a party’s immigration position is the most visible proxy.
It is the difference between a mat at your front door that says “Welcome” and one that says “Go Away.”
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