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PARISI: Amnesty amnesia

Are GOP immigration reformers suicidal or just self-delusional?

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"The triumph of hope over experience." 

Samuel Johnson, 18th-century essayist on second marriages.

Johnson may have been referring to second marriages, but in the current political context, it could just as easily be said of Republican backers of comprehensive immigration reform.

Republican members of the Senate's "Gang of Eight" are engaging in that sort of wishful thinking when they suggest that passing their 1,075-page bill would measurably improve the party's electoral prospects with Hispanic voters.

The only real question is whether such thinking is self-delusional or suicidal.

"If we don't pass immigration reform it doesn't matter who [Republicans run for president] in 2016," said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the Republican conspirators in the Gang. "We're in a demographic death spiral as a party, and the only way we can get back in good graces with the Hispanic community is pass comprehensive immigration reform."

Mr. Graham's "death spiral" prognosis is amnesiac in that Republicans picked up 63 seats in the House, six in the Senate and a record 680 in state legislatures as recently as the 2010 elections. As such, this supposed urgency to pass comprehensive immigration reform stems solely from Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's poor showing last year among Hispanic voters.

Here again, however, Mr. Graham's prognosis — and, thus, his prescription — couldn't be more wrong, as the accompanying chart from the Pew Hispanic Center of the past nine presidential elections makes clear. It shows that Mr. Romney was hardly the outlier. Bob Dole, the 1996 Republican nominee, drew an even smaller share of the Hispanic vote, as did George H.W. Bush in 1992. Indeed, no Republican presidential nominee has ever won the Hispanic vote in the 32 years of exit polling compiled by Pew, and none has ever received more than 40 percent.

That 40 percent was in 2004 for George W. Bush, who — if support for immigration reform was a litmus test for winning the Hispanic vote — should have won it handily. Inexplicably, pro-amnesty Republicans hail Mr. Bush's "breakthrough" 40 percent as the way going forward, as though 40 percent is anything less than a landslide loss. Four years later, Republican presidential nominee John McCain, the face of his party's support for immigration reform during the previous failed amnesty battle in Congress in 2007, won just 31 percent of the Hispanic vote. Undeterred, Mr. McCain is back on the front lines in the fight for immigration reform, in what may be the best example yet of the triumph of hope over experience.

If immigration reform were the panacea for Republicans that Mr. McCain and Mr. Graham insist it is, George H.W. Bush should have been the beneficiary of the 1986 amnesty from grateful Hispanic voters in his presidential races in 1988 and 1992. Signed into law by President Reagan (who despite winning two landslides averaged just 36 percent of the Hispanic vote), the 1986 amnesty bill didn't help his successor. In 1992, President Bush won less of the Hispanic vote than did Mr. Romney, whose poor showing is the driving force in a panicking, pandering Republican establishment pushing for yet another round of immigration reform. (Reagan confidant Edwin Meese says the Gipper told him that in hindsight signing the 1986 amnesty was the biggest mistake of his presidency.)

As Albert Einstein observed, however, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Mr. McCain acknowledged as much when he said, "I believe if we pass this legislation, it won't gain us a single Hispanic vote." He should have stopped there, but — the 1986 experience notwithstanding — added, "but what it will do is put us on a playing field where we can compete."

Common sense suggests, however, that when you're in a hole, you stop digging. Granting amnesty to an estimated 11 million "undocumented" Democrats and more over time via chain migration — NumbersUSA in April estimated 33 million altogether in the first decade alone — only digs the hole deeper for the Republican Party, making it harder to climb out.

Republican consultant Mike McKenna said it best: "You can support immigration reform for moral reasons, for philosophical reasons or for economic reasons. But if you are a Republican and supporting it for political reasons, you are an idiot who cannot read or understand survey data."

The Democrats in the Gang of Eight, meanwhile, are more than happy to play the role of Jack Kevorkian in this Republican assisted suicide. "I would tell my Republican colleagues that the road to the White House comes through a road with a pathway to legalization. Without it, there will never be a road to the White House for the Republican Party," said Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat. It should set off alarm bells when extreme partisans such as Mr. Menendez and Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, who has said much the same thing, offer political advice to Republicans. Heeding it would be like chickens taking advice from Col. Sanders.

Peter Parisi is an editorial writer for The Washington Times.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
Peter Parisi

Peter Parisi

Peter Parisi joined the copy desk of The Washington Times in March 1996. A political junkie and talk-radio addict, he is the copy desk’s “go-to” guy for political questions.

During his 14 years at The Times, he has won headline-writing awards from the Virginia Press Association, the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association and the American Copy Editors Society. He is an 11-year ...

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