The politics of immigration reform

This piece by Tamar Jacoby about the role of the illegal immigration issue in last week’s election is sub-titled “the immigration issue didn’t work.” And it is true that the “hawkish” stance of House Republicans didn’t save the party (or some of the hawks) from defeat. But then, neither did the tax issue or the national security issue or pro-life positions (fortunately, no one is arguing that Republicans should start supporting tax increases or repeal of the Patriot Act or abortion on demand). Going positive (Anne Northup) didn’t work. Going negative (George Allen) didn’t work. Nothing worked except being very popular to start out with and then not making gaffes.
But did it hurt to be a hard-liner? I don’t think so. One certainly can make the case that it may have hurt Randy Graf and J.D. Hayworth in Arizona. But, as Jacoby says, Graf came off not just as tough on illegal immigration but as fanatical, and neither his party nor the incumbent Republican he defeated in the primary supported him. It’s tough to win under these circumstances. Moreover, Jacoby concedes that one or two struggling Republicans may have ridden the immigration issue to victory. She doesn’t identify these Republicans, but I’ve heard it said that Rep. Roskam in Illinois got a boost from the issue in his tough campaign against Tammy Duckworth. In San Diego, Rep. Bilbray pushed the issue hard and won his seat (one that Dems initially had hoped to gain) quite comfortably. And in Minnesota, I understand that Michelle Bachman, though not making a huge issue out of it, backed the House Republican position and won by the about usual margin (Mark Kennedy had represented the district until this year) in a brutal year for state Republicans. (John and Scott will correct me if I’m wrong here).
So what should Republican office holders take away from this? I think they should vote their convictions which, naturally, I hope are similar to mine. My conviction is that amnesty, paths to citizenship, or whatever should receive no consideration unless/until we prove that we can prevent illegals from entering entering the country.

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