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Politicians and Analysts Say Immigration is GOP’s Achilles Heel

by Pili Tobar on 12/05/2011 at 3:23pm

immigration reformThe issue of immigration continues to be definitional for the Republican presidential contest.  Just this weekend:

John McCain Tells GOP Field to Get Right (Meaning Center) on Immigration:  On CNN’s “Face the Nation” Sunday, 2008 presidential nominee John McCain (R-AZ) offered this advice to the Republican field: “The Republican Party has to discuss [immigration] in as humane a way as possible…We have to have empathy, we have to have concern and we have to have a plan.”  Senator McCain also noted the importance of Latino voters in 2012, saying, “The demographics are clear that the Hispanic vote will play a major role in national elections,” and highlighted the importance Latino voters place on the immigration issue while taking a shot at President Obama on immigration, saying, “the enthusiasm on the part of Hispanics for President Obama is dramatically less than it was in 2008, because he has not fulfilled his campaign promises either.  So I view the Hispanic vote up for grabs.”

Pundits and Analysts Note Political Perils of Mitt Romney’s Run to the Right on Immigration:  On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Time’s Mark Halperin stated, “I think if [Romney’s] the nominee he may lose in the general election right now because he’s been acting as a hard-liner on immigration, and the Hispanic community does not like it.  And in a lot of battleground states, they could decide it.”  Meanwhile, separate from Latino voters, polling guru Nate Silver of the New York Times wrote, “Mr. Romney may have calibrated his ideological pitch a bit too finely. While not having made much headway with the most conservative Republicans, moderates are also somewhat leery of him…I do not mean to suggest that Mr. Romney should abandon his strategy and begin running to his left — the Republican Party is still the conservative party and a candidate has to pick the lesser of evils. Nevertheless, there are probably some trade-offs when Mr. Romney seeks to do things like attack his opponents on immigration policy from the right; such strategies may run the risk of annoying moderate voters while failing to persuade the most conservative ones.”

Doyle McManus: “An Issue on Which Most Republican Voters are More Sensible than their Candidates”:  Noting how far to the right the Republican Party has moved on the issue of immigration, Washington columnist for the Los Angeles Times Doyle McManus wrote, “Reagan would have been pilloried if he were running for his party’s presidential nomination today.”  McManus also captured the dirty little secret of the Republican field – that the candidates are to the right of the electorate, even most Republicans, when it comes to immigration reform.  Wrote McManus of the GOP tack to the right on immigration, “But there’s a flaw in this approach.  To begin with, it’s not what American voters are asking for, not even the bulk of Republican voters.  A Fox News poll last year found that almost two-thirds of Republicans believe that ‘illegal immigrants who pay taxes and obey the law’ should be given a chance to remain in the United States under some kind of legalization program.  A majority also favored tougher enforcement of the law, but only one-third said they believed that deportation was the solution to the problem.  And, almost needless to say, a campaign that focuses on cracking down on illegal immigrants is a good way to alienate Latino voters, one of the fastest-growing parts of the electorate…There’s a lot of electioneering to come between now and then, and a lot of time for the GOP to do itself more damage.  But this is an issue on which most Republican voters are more sensible than their candidates.” 

McManus’s last point is an important one.  America’s Voice has analyzed a series of recent polls and found that Republicans’ immigration views are more pragmatic and nuanced than conventional wisdom or the Republican field’s immigration positioning would suggest.  

Sure looks like the immigration issue will continue to define the Republican presidential contest. The question is whether the hard-core nativists continue to control the debate — and the candidates. 

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