It’s a strange election year when one of the most important issues for voters is avoided by both presidential candidates. But that is exactly what has happened in 2008 with illegal immigration. Recently, some people have suggested that the Republican Party Platform should be similarly silent, or at least equivocal, on the issue. They are dead wrong.
Think back to February 2008. Most of the contenders for the Republican presidential nomination were wrestling with one another to wear the mantle of “toughest on illegal immigration.” As Congressman Tom Tancredo correctly observed, the rest of the field “was trying to out-Tancredo Tancredo.”
Or think back to June 2007. The presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain was on the rocks. And there was a single, overriding reason for it: his role in pushing the McCain-Kennedy amnesty bill of that year. McCain has repeatedly acknowledged that fact, and declares that he has “learned his lesson.”
Throughout most of 2007 and the first quarter of 2008, illegal immigration ranked as the top domestic issue in the minds of voters. It still remains near the top of the list, although the high price of gasoline has taken over as the leading domestic issue.
Republicans in Congress have made clear where the Republican Party stands. In the Senate, Republicans voted 38-7 to reject the McCain-Kennedy Amnesty of 2007 (whereas Senate Democrats favored the amnesty 37-11). In the House, opposition to amnesty is even sharper, with Republicans opposing such provisions by a ratio of 20-1.
The McCain campaign has understandably downplayed the issue in the months since he wrapped up the nomination.
The McCain campaign may or may not be correctly assessing its own electoral interests in deciding what Senator McCain should talk about. But one thing is certain — for the Republican Platform to downplay the illegal immigration issue would not serve the interests of the Republican Party as a whole.
Overwhelming majorities of voters support vigorous enforcement of our immigration laws and reject amnesty. Fully 70 percent of voters (including 75 percent of Republicans and 71 percent of Independents) say enforcement of our immigration laws has been “grossly inadequate.” Similarly, 69 percent of voters (including 81 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of Independents) want to see tougher immigration laws on the books.
Moreover, resistance to illegal immigration is a position that attracts blue collar Democrats in droves.
Democrats in borderline districts understand this all too well. In many of the House races in which Democrats unseated incumbent Republicans in 2006, the Democrat was able to win only by accusing the Republican of being “soft” on illegal immigration. In perhaps the most preposterous example of this tactic, Arizona Rep. J.D. Hayworth (a stalwart opponent of illegal immigration) was criticized by Democrat challenger Harry Mitchell for not being strong enough. It worked.
To hold on to their recent gains in Congress, Democrats in vulnerable seats have flocked to the Republican position. One need only observe Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.) constantly talking tough on illegal immigration to get the point.
In the few districts where Republican challengers are poised to unseat Democrat incumbents in 2008, illegal immigration is once again the decisive issue. For example, in Pennsylvania’s 11th Congressional District, 24-year incumbent Democrat Paul Kanjorski is trailing in the polls to Lou Barletta, the Mayor of Hazleton.
Barletta is a hero to Republicans, as well as to blue collar voters who overwhelmingly support Hazleton’s ordinance prohibiting the employment of unauthorized aliens and the harboring of illegal aliens in apartments. His ability to attract Democrat voters because of his stance on the issue was undeniable. In his 2007 re-election bid for Mayor, Barletta not only won the Republican primary with 94 percent of the vote, he also won the Democrat primary with 63 percent (as a write-in candidate).
In hundreds of other congressional races, illegal immigration will be the single strongest issue for the Republican candidate. It is therefore essential that the Republican Party reinforce these candidates with a platform that unequivocally states the Party’s opposition to amnesty or public benefits for illegal aliens, and its support for the border fence and vigorous enforcement measures.
Of course, even if opposition to illegal immigration were not so wildly popular with voters, it would still be the right position for the Republican Party to take. It is consistent with the bedrock Republican principles of respect for the rule of law, defense of American sovereignty, opposition to the expansion of the welfare state, and reduction of the threat of terrorism.
For all of these reasons, I and many other members of the Platform Committee will insist that the 2008 Platform clearly state the Republican Party’s opposition to amnesty or public benefits for illegal aliens, and its support for the border fence and vigorous enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws. To do otherwise would be to abandon our Party’s principles, along with one of the most potent winning issues for Republicans in 2008.