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Immigration fixation = politics for losers

With state Representative Peter Palumbo (D-Cranston) and state Senator Christopher B. Maselli (D-Johnston) due to have a news conference at this moment to introduce illegal immigration-related legislation, it's worth considering the wider impact of this issue. The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza happens to have an article, entitled Return of the Nativist, on the subject in last week's issue.

In short, Lizza reinforces the point that while illegal immigration is a hot button that moves part of the Republican base, it' overshadows more important issues and is a loser in electoral politics. I made these points previously with these two respectives posts, here and here.

Let's go to Lizza's article.

To his credit, John McCain has been the Republican presidential candidate most unwilling to demagogue on the illegal immigration issue:

To the student with the immigration question, McCain patiently explained that some illegal immigrants had faced unusual circumstances, and he mentioned a woman who has lived in the United States for decades and has a son and a grandson serving in Iraq. When the student said that he wanted to see punishment meted out to anyone who has broken the law, McCain stopped trying to find common ground. “If you’re prepared to send an eighty-year-old grandmother who’s been here seventy years back to some country, then frankly you’re not quite as compassionate as maybe I am,” he said. Next question.

Meanwhile, single-issue immigration opponents, like Tom Tancredo, are moving the national GOP, and the party's presidential candidates, farther to the right:

Anti-immigrant passion also owes much to the disproportionate influence of a few small states in the nominating process. National polls show that, as an issue, immigration is far behind the Iraq war, terrorism, the economy, and health care as a concern to most Americans; a recent Pew poll shows that, nationally, only six per cent of voters offer immigration as the most important issue facing the country. But in Iowa and South Carolina, two of the three most important early states, it is a top concern for the Republicans who are most likely to vote.  ....

Huckabee’s excitement [about his improved standing] was tempered by Romney’s persistent attacks on his immigration record as governor of Arkansas, and he seemed to be grappling with the intensity of the question among Republicans. “It does appear to be the issue out here wherever we are,” he told me. “Nobody’s asked about Iraq—doesn’t ever come up. The first question out of the box, everywhere I go—Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, Texas, it doesn’t matter—is immigration. It’s just red hot, and I don’t fully understand it.”

Romney has not been similarly reflective in trying to discern the source of the issue’s power. Rather, he has quickly and easily adopted the negative code words of the anti-immigration movement—“sanctuary cities,” “amnesty”—and has tried to attach them to Giuliani and Huckabee. In doing so, he became the first top-tier candidate to seize the Tancredo mantle. My own sense, from talking to Huckabee, a Southern populist, and McCain, a border-state senator, is that they are genuinely appalled by Romney’s tactics, not only because of the damage to their campaigns but also because of the damage they believe he’s doing to the Party’s image.  ....

Nevertheless, last week, Huckabee, too, found his inner Tancredo: he announced the Secure America Plan, which included tough language about enforcement and pressuring illegal immigrants to return home. This leaves McCain as the only Republican candidate who hasn’t folded in the face of Romney’s attacks. At the press lunch in Virginia, after McCain had discussed his warm relations with several candidates, a reporter asked about Romney. “I’ve never known him,” McCain said icily. “I’ve never had a relationship with him.”

And Republicans are apparently pursuing a self-destructive path:

Barack Obama, during a recent interview with the editorial board of the Boston Globe, predicted that the Republicans will run next fall on two issues: terrorism and immigration. When I asked a leading Republican strategist and former Bush lieutenant if he agreed, he said merely, “I hope not.” He argued that it was incorrect to think that immigration was the second most important challenge facing the United States. “We need to address other issues, like the economy, health care, and education,” he said. When I asked Tancredo if he was leading his party “over a cliff” or “to the promised land,” he laughed and said, “I see manna out there.”  ....

Far from fearing the immigration issue, some Democratic strategists are quietly cheering how the subject has played out. Simon Rosenberg, a Democratic strategist who has closely studied the politics of the issue, says simply, “The Bush strategy—enlightened on race, smart on immigration, developed in Texas and Florida with Jeb Bush—has been replaced by the Tancredo-Romney strategy, which is demonizing and scapegoating immigrants, and that is a catastrophic event for the Republican Party.”

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