In his analysis of Florida Republican David Jolly’s special election win over Democrat Alex Sink on Tuesday, Republican establishment strategist Karl Rove failed to fully acknowledge the importance of both mobilizing the Republican base for this fall’s midterm elections and opposing amnesty.
In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, Rove wrote that Jolly’s win showed that “ObamaCare is a potent issue that hurts Democrats badly but isn’t sufficient by itself.” He mentioned that there could be similar conditions that led 2010’s epic sweep, but he did not mention that the Tea Party fueled that wave.
Without explicitly saying so, Rove conceded that mobilizing the base is the key to winning midterm elections. He wrote that attacking ObamaCare motivated Republicans “more than supporting it energized Democrats. Independents opposed ObamaCare but by a narrower margin.”
Another issue that motivated the base–and even independent voters in the swing district–was Jolly’s opposition to amnesty. Jolly showed that swing districts can be won by opposing amnesty.
During the campaign, Sink was in favor of amnesty and even said the country needed it so people like her could hire cheap labor. Jolly blasted her for those comments and was the only candidate who was against amnesty. He even ran commercials emphasizing the point.
Daniel Horowitz of the Madison Project observed after the election that the “notion that we must support amnesty to remain viable is clearly laid to waste by this victory in a Florida swing district.” He argued that “if running as a conservative on the issues, including the issue of immigration, is a pathway to victory in an Obama 4 district, imagine the results in a district Romney carried by 10, 20, or 30 points.”
Horowitz also predicted that establishment operatives like Rove would ignore that point. “But don’t expect the wizards of smart within the Republican Party establishment to ever consider that the reality of the immigration issue might be in conflict with their conventional wisdom,” he wrote. “There is too much money invested in that fallacious premise.”
On cue, Rove did not mention that issue in his analysis. Instead, he focused on how Democrats who supported Obamacare may be even more vulnerable than Sink.
“However, unlike Ms. Sink, Democratic incumbents voted for ObamaCare and made promises that turned out to be untrue, making them far more vulnerable than she was,” Rove wrote. He also noted that Republicans, especially with help from outside groups, outperformed Democrats on the ground to help Jolly.
Two national polls have found that a plurality of Americans are less likely to vote for candidates who support amnesty, but mentioning that would go against the interests of Rove and the GOP establishment who want to ram through amnesty for their big-business allies who want cheap labor.
Rove also launched a political action group that vowed to wage war on Tea Party and conservative candidates in 2014, but he has been on the retreat after receiving considerable backlash from the base. Emphasizing how beneficial it may be for politicians to oppose amnesty may only further embolden those grassroots voters.