Inching Towards Relevance on Immigration

If Mitt Romney loses, and if Republicans fail to take advantage of an extraordinary opportunity to take control of the Senate, there will be a lot of justifiable talk about the decision of the GOP and its presidential candidate to subordinate efforts to appeal to Latino voters to its recent nativist bender. As Terence McCoy explains in a “web exclusive” article for Washington Monthly, some maneuvering over the platform at the Republican National Convention richly illustrates how far the GOP is from relevance on immigration policy, despite the efforts of a few lonely voices to find a path back that could reconnect it with potential Latino supporters.

McCoy chronicles the efforts of a Texas Republican named Brad Baily who managed to get a “tiny concession” to the Latino vote inserted into the Republican platform alongside the usual immigrant-bashing language:

First adopted by Lone Star state Republicans at their state convention last June, Baily’s plan calls for a guest-worker program. Of course, to be eligible for the program, immigrants must self-fund any participation fees, pass a full criminal background check, secure their own private health insurance, waive any public assistance, exhibit proficiency in English, complete a rather ambiguous-sounding “American civics class,” before, finally, agreeing to be biometrically tracked. “I agree the qualifiers are too strident,” Bailey sighed.

But for a party whose standard bearer has called for “self deportation,” this is a considerable departure.

Even that took some doing, mainly in the form of Baily personally bending the ear of every influential person he could find at the convention about the demographic catastrophe of actively repelling the Latino vote. His “Texas solution,” which even he wouldn’t really describe as a “solution,” made it into the platform as something of an anomaly.

[A]ligned against Baily were countervailing forces, lead Ken Kobach, Kansas secretary of state. He would be Bailey’s dueling partner for four days.

Kobach wanted to enshrine Arizona’s immigration’s laws, which he’d partly authored, in the 2012 Republican platform. Bailey, who’s worked alongside Hispanics for years at his seafood joints, said Kobach didn’t get it. His policies, in a way, demonized immigrants. “They’re not thugs like Kobach describes,” Bailey said. Ultimately, Kobach got his way. The platform said Arizona-style laws should be “encouraged, not attacked” and called on the federal government to dismiss its lawsuits against the legislation.

But, in a surprising turn, Bailey got his way too. The platform recommends a “legal and reliable source of foreign labor where needed through a new guest worker program.” -provided, again, that they agree be “biometrically tracked,” secure their own private health insurance, speak proficient English and all rest. The apparent contradiction in tone exemplifies just how, shall we say, bifurcated the Republican Party has become on immigration.

That’s putting it generously. Give McCoy’s piece a careful reading. It provides a good insight into the struggle Republicans are having on this issue, which will become even more important in the years ahead.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.