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Immigration: Condi Rice and George P. Bush Get It, Romney Doesn't

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When it comes to immigration, Republican candidates remain stuck between a nativist rock and a demographic hard place.  This week, a few sensible voices like Condoleezza Rice, George P. Bush, and Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal editorial board are warning of the dangers of anti-immigrant politicking and pointing the Party toward a more inclusive approach to immigration reform.  Meanwhile, candidates like Mitt Romney, Jeff Flake, and Wil Cardon remain stuck in the old way of thinking about the politics of immigration.

According to Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice:

The Republican playbook on immigration is pervasive, outdated, and counterproductive to the long-term interests of both the Party and the country.  Thankfully, some prominent conservative and Republican voices are speaking out about the problems with running to the hard-line right on immigration.  The question is – when will Republican candidates listen?

Among recent developments:

Condoleezza Rice Leans into Need for Immigration Reform: Former Secretary of State Rice, who has been receiving some interesting vice presidential attention recently, has been discussing the importance of immigration in a manner that, in the words of Huffington Post, may “disqualify” her as Mitt Romney’s running mate.  That may be true, but her stance on the issue could actually make the ticket more electable.  In a speech she has been delivering in front of a range of audiences recently, Rice states:

It doesn’t matter where you came from, it matters where you’re going…That belief has led people to come here for generations from across the world, just to be a part of that.  Frankly, it hasn’t mattered whether it was Sergei Brin, whose parents brought him here at 7 years old from Russia and he founds Google, or the guy who came to make five dollars and fifty cents.  They are the same ambitious, risk-taking people and America has been able to gather them.

In the past, Rice has lamented the failure of Congress to pass immigration reform during the George W. Bush presidency, telling the New York Times Magazine, “Comprehensive immigration reform is the one thing I wish we’d been able to do, and it’s going to have to be done, and I hope it’s done soon.”

George P. Bush: Into the Political Limelight and Focusing on GOP Immigration Problems:  The grandson of former President George H.W. Bush, the nephew of former President George W. Bush, and the son of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush carries a distinguished political legacy – and is slowly stepping out onto the political stage.  Yesterday, as numerous national outlets highlighted, George P. Bush said that he had “reservations” and was “concerned” about the Republican Party’s hard-line stance on immigration and noted that “he and other Republicans wish the party would ‘return to George W. Bush on this issue,’ referring to the former president’s bipartisan push to reform the nation’s immigration policy.” The 36-year old Bush also noted that, “Governor Romney had an opportunity to get in front of the president on the issue…But the president clearly has taken the initiative on it,” referring to President Obama’s announcement to protect DREAMers.  Acting decisively on immigration is not only the right thing to do, but a smart political move, and current Republican candidates don’t get it.

GOP Candidate Problems on Immigration Go Beyond the Presidential – See Flake vs. Cardon in AZ Senate Primary:  Mitt Romney’s hardliner stance on immigration – and subsequent refusal to take any concrete stands on the issue – has led to historically low polling among the rapidly-growing Latino electorate and kept the issue in the headlines, and prominent down-ballot Republican candidates are following the same playbook.  For example, both candidates in the Arizona Senate primary–a battle between former immigration reform champion Rep. Jeff Flake and conservative businessman Wil Cardon–have adopted Romney’s strategy of tacking to the hard right in the primary.  Editorial boards are now saying that the entire way immigration has been discussed and mishandled on the campaign trail is evidence of the GOP’s larger problems on the issue.

In an editorial titled, “Hard Line Push Imperils Party,” the home-state Arizona Republic wrote:

Cardon’s conundrum [on immigration] is an entire party’s burden.  Not so long ago, Jeff Flake, the favorite to win the GOP primary, was wrestling with his own soft credentials on immigration. A politician known for his brave and nuanced view of immigration policy decided it was necessary to armor up as a border warrior, presumably to win this primary.  Flake’s former enthusiasm for humane immigration reform made him ripe for attack on the right, and Cardon hustled to outflank him there. But that became more difficult this week as new facts suggest Cardon may have profited from the labor of undocumented immigrants.  Republicans everywhere are wrestling their own incompatible arguments and histories. The industrial-strength war on migrants that wins GOP primaries today is positioning the party to lose larger prizes tomorrow.  Flake’s and Cardon’s distress is mirrored by GOP standard-bearer Mitt Romney, who carried into the presidential general election all the baggage of the tough talk he used to win GOP primaries… Republicans will either figure out how to address border policy in ways that do not insult immigrants or they will be rolled by the hard facts of a nation growing increasingly more diverse and more Latino.

The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Riley had a similar take, also noting that Flake’s current stance on the issue takes the country further from a real solution:

Mr. Flake has represented suburban Phoenix since 2001 and distinguished himself as, among other things, a champion of comprehensive immigration reform that includes not only more border security but also viable guest worker programs to meet U.S. labor market demand and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers already here. These days, he sounds more like Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio, denouncing comprehensive immigration reform as ‘a dead end’ and saying it’s no longer ‘possible or even desirable’…A Senator Flake would surely be an additional vote for spending restraint in the Upper Chamber. Unfortunately, he might also be another vote for the immigration status quo that he once bravely fought to change.”

“This doesn’t have to be so hard.  Most Americans support practical, common sense immigration solutions.  They’re looking for leadership, not extremism.  Republicans could court both Latinos and non-Latino voters with the same immigration policy,” said Tramonte.