Monday, March 17, 2008

McCain: Republicans Need to Abandon Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric

In a prior posting, “Immigration: The Myth of the Third Rail of Politics,” I noted that the conventional wisdom which holds “that any serious political candidate dare not articulate a pro-immigrant platform lest they get burned by the charged rail of American politics,” no longer holds true. (posting on March 3, 2008). A March 17, 2008 interview with Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, on NPR’s Morning Edition firmly underlines this point. ( Senator McCain, along with Senator Edward Kennedy introduced, The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, or, in its full name, the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (S. 1348) ( The legislation went down in flames but the fact that McCain was and is so closely identified with comprehensive immigration reform did not stop him from gaining the Republican Presidential nomination and recent polls give no indication that this issue will hurt him in the general election.

In the NPR interview McCain makes the observation that the Republican Party lost Dennis Hastert’s congressional seat to Democratic rival, Bill Foster. Hastert's district was considered a safe Republican seat and should have been an easy win for the Republican candidate, Jim Oberweis. McCain notes that Oberweis ran on an aggressive anti-immigrant platform and that this likely contributed to his loss. While the loss of this seat to Democrats has shocked the Republican establishment, it is once again worth noting that candidates for office need not be afraid from articulating a pro-immigrant position. Polls consistently show that most Americans are not in league with nativist activists like Michelle Malkin or Lou Dobbs.

The Wall Street Journal (no friend of Democrats or immigrants) noted as follows:

Republicans such as Mr. Oberweis remain convinced that illegal immigration is a winning issue. And if the electorate were comprised mostly of Internet screechers and cable news anchors, they might be right. But the fact that Mr. McCain, the Presidential candidate most closely associated with immigration tolerance, has outlasted Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee and other immigration hardliners, should be an indication that other issues are foremost in the minds of even GOP voters.

Saturday’s result showed once again that a hard line on illegal immigration doesn’t win elections. The longer Republicans pretend that it does the more elections they will lose.

Speaking of screeching web hate-mongers, Michelle Malkin tried bravely to spin this as anything but a loss for the nativist crowd. But the reality is that, despite so-much nativist chatter on the web and the cable networks, anti-immigrant hate-mongering will not carry the day as a wedge issue. As I have previously noted, this does not mean that anti-immigrant talk does not resonate with a portion of the electorate but that politicians who spew extreme positions will get burned. Conversely, pro-immigrant candidates need not fear that this issue will bring them down.

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