The Republican Party’s stunning loss in the 2012 election demonstrates one thing clearly: its demographic base is shrinking. Many in the conservative movement have suggested that a comprehensive solution to the immigration problem must be found so that the Hispanic community can move beyond immigration, thereby opening up the population to secondary concerns, which are largely conservative.
That’s certainly a debate worth having. But unfortunately, the usual suspects in the establishment Republican Party are now seizing control of the immigration debate in order to maintain control over the base of conservatives who are sick and tired of establishment Republicans taking them for granted and ignoring their concerns. The establishment Republican Party has picked the one part of George W. Bush’s record that conservatives seem to be reconsidering — immigration — and is now using that issue in order to wedge Bush-type conservatives back into power.
Thus the sudden resurrection of George W. Bush as spokesman for the immigration reform issue.
Bush spoke at a conference regarding immigration that just so happened to be sponsored by the George W. Bush Institute and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. He stated that when the U.S. discusses the merits of immigration, it should “do so with a benevolent spirit and keep in mind the contribution of immigrants … Immigrants have helped build the country that we’ve become and immigrants can help build a dynamic tomorrow … America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time.” Immigrants bring “new skills and new ideas” and “fill a critical gap in our labor market,” he said.
All of this is true. But Bush is the wrong spokesperson. And this is all a concerted power play by big government conservatives to retake the party. They contend that the single issue about which Republicans should be most concerned is immigration, and therefore that the Party should embrace the lead spokesperson. Then they trot out George W. Bush as that spokesperson.
But while the Party’s immigration position must be tackled, it must not be seen as the be-all, end-all. It is simply untrue that Hispanics had as profound an impact on the 2012 election as establishment Republicans are claiming. As Byron York has written, quoting a New York Times analysis of the election, statistics showed key states would still have voted for Obama even if Hispanics had voted in far greater numbers for Romney. In Wisconsin, he wrote, “if every single Hispanic voter in Wisconsin had cast a ballot for Romney, Obama still would have won.” And the same fact emerged from New Hampshire and Iowa. In Ohio, where Obama won 53% of the Hispanic vote, he would have won with as little as 22% of that vote. In Virginia, Obama beat Romney with Hispanics 65% to 33%. But if Romney had gotten 65%, and Obama 33%? Obama still would have won the state. Thus the claims of the centrality of the Hispanic vote are simply fallacious. Which means that even if Bush is the most prominent spokesperson for immigration reform, that should not make him the spokesperson for the Republican Party.
The second problem here is the sudden appearance of former President Bush on the national scene after he was quiescent during the campaign. It is no accident that his brother Jeb is making noises about running. The wealthy Republicans on both coasts are totally out of touch with middle America and the standards they adhere to, as well as ungrateful to the Tea Party that helped them win Congress. The speaking engagement by George W. Bush was planned months ago, which means that the establishment figured that if the Romney ship went down, they would be perfectly positioned to use the immigration issue as a way to reinvigorate support for the Bush compassionate conservative brand.
George W. Bush is a very fine man, but because he spent money like a Democrat, for the foreseeable future he will be viewed as a failed president. His assumption of leadership under the guise of immigration reform is a warning shot across the bow to conservatives who have the right, especially after their massive success in 2010, to take over the party. Conservatives must consider their position on immigration; comprehensive immigration reform may be worthwhile. But no matter what, they must not allow George W. Bush and Bush’s conservative-lite to become the face of that position.