David Broder joins E.J. Dionne in condemning the Republican presidential field, other than John McCain and Mike Huckabee, for its tough talk on immigration during the presidential debate last week. Broder goes so far as to urge Republicans to nominate a McCain-Huckabee ticket. He thus follows the MSM tradition in which non-Republicans advise Republicans to nominate less-than-fully-conservative candidates. In fairness, though, in this year’s field nearly all of our options are less-than-fuly-conservative.
When it comes to immigration, however, Republicans should ignore MSM stalwarts like Broder and Dionne not just on general principle, but also because McCain and Huckabee are worse than the other candidates on this issue.
Let’s start with McCain. Only half a year ago, he was a prime driver of legislation that he now admits (sort of) was a mistake. McCain favored comprehensive reform that included mechanisms through which illegal aliens could obtain amnesty, though he disingenuously refused to use that word. Now he says he does not favor providing a path to citizenship for illegal aliens until measures have been taken to secure the borders and the relevant governors have certified that their borders are, in fact, secure. Interestingly, McCain always couches his new position in terms of what “the American people” want (i.e., secure borders first), not in terms of what he wants. But putting this to one side, it’s indisputable that McCain vigorously pushed for immigration reform that he now does not support. In assessing McCain as a potential president, this must be viewed as a minus, just as his advocacy of an improved strategy in Iraq constitutes a plus.
Meanwhile, Huckabee supported as governor, and continues to defend, providing college scholarships to the children of illegal aliens who went all the way through the Arkansas public school system, provided they otherwise qualify for the scholarship. He argues that “we’re a better country than to punish children for what their parents did.”
This sounds good, and not just to Dionne and Broder, but there are several problems with it. First, where does this principle stop? Under Huckabee’s view, it’s difficult to see why we shouldn’t grant amnesty to all children of illegal aliens. After all, the denial of citizenship can more reasonably be viewed as “punishment” than the withholding of a college scholarship, which is more in the nature of denying a special benefit. Does Huckabee favor such amnesty, and if not, why not?
Second, every time a political leader confers a substantial benefit on the children of illegal immigrants, the result is to attract more illegal immigrants. This doesn’t mean that the state should withhold basic services such as emergency health care, but it’s a powerful argument against granting benefits like college scholarships. Huckabee’s failure to grasp this point, or his indifference to it, is further evidence that he should not be the Republican nominee for president, and probably should not be high on the list of vice presidential prospects either.
UPDATE: Yesterday on ABC’s This Week, Huckabee was asked: “As president would you allow the children of illegal immigrants to be eligible for Pell grants, subsidized student loans?” After stumbling for a moment, Huckabee said, “I’m not sure that I would support that” and tried to distinguish this program from the one he supported for Arkansas. When pressed as to the difference, Huckabee stated, “Well, it’s a difference between being punished and being rewarded.”
As I noted above, that’s precisely the difference Huckabee tried to obscure during the debate.
JOHN adds: The Democrats are scared to death of the illegal immigration issue, which may well cost them the White House in 2008. So it’s no surprise that Democratic stalwarts in the media urge Republicans to nominate a candidate who can’t take advantage of this vulnerability. This is the best reason not to nominate John McCain, although it is a fair question whether he might be the Republicans’ strongest general election candidate, notwithstanding the illegal immigration issue.
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