Yesterday, the Senate defeated the DREAM Act. During the build-up to the vote there were, as usual, warnings about the impact defeating this legislation will have on the Republican Party’s ability to win the votes of Hispanics. And, as usual, some of the warnings came from Democrats.
For example, Chuck Schumer noted that the Hispanic vote was probably decisive in the re-election of Democratic candidates for the Senate in Colorado and Nevada. And it could have been decisive in California had the race been a bit closer.
My naive view is that Senators should base their votes on the merits of an issue, not the politics. And, as John argued, the merits screamed out for a “no” vote on the DREAM Act.
However, if politics are to be considered, I believe they too militate against Republicans supporting legislation like DREAM that will lead to amnesty on a large scale. It is true that Republicans have a problem with Hispanic voters in most states where they constitute a significant part of the vote. And it is true that votes like a “no” on the DREAM Act probably contribute marginally to the problem.
But the lesson I take from Nevada and Colorado is that any measure that will enable large numbers of illegal immigrants to gain legal status, and thus to vote, is against the political interests of the Republican Party, or at least its conservative elements. For it is a dream to believe that Republicans will win over former illegal immigrants (or current Hispanic voters, for that matter) by saying “me too” to legislation that confers benefits upon them. And it is at least as much of a dream to suppose that a Republican Party that tries to keep up with the Dems in the benefit-conferring department can remain conservative. The Democrats will always be able to think of some goodie that conservative Republicans, as a matter of principle, will be unable to support.
That certainly has been the case with African-American voters. Republicans overwhelmingly supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (more so than did their Democratic counterparts). Since then, they have often said “me too” to subsequent civil rights legislation, at times (as with the 1991 Act) against their better judgment. But as a conservative party, they have not been willing to support the entire agenda of preferential treatment, and thus they have made no real inroads with African-American voters.
There are differences, of course, between the Hispanic and the African-American voter. However, It would be foolish for Republicans to support legislation they would otherwise oppose on the theory that such pandering will succeed with Hispanics where it has failed with African-Americans.
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