For the most part, the Republican presidential candidates tried to play the "immigration" card — one that may backfire come November.
Only John McCain was willing to take a gentler approach to immigration and thank God he’s the last man standing. CNN and the liberal media were all too willing to let the Republicans continue their suicidal plunge on immigration.
Meanwhile, the New York Post recently featured a column by Geraldo Rivera decrying the impact of the immigration debate on the Republican Party: freefall in the polls among Latino voters. President Bush carried 45 percent of the Latino vote in 2004.
The number plunged during the 2006 midterm elections and prominent opponents to immigration suffered devastating defeats, including Rep. J. D. Hayworth from Arizona. Meanwhile, support for the Republican Party has plunged to about 21 percent among Latinos.
The problem is even worse when we consider that the Latinos are the fastest growing demographic in the country and will grow in electoral influence throughout this century. Concurrently, continuing anti-immigrant rhetoric will continue to cost Republicans among this important group of voters.
Does this mean that the Republican Party should allow open borders and turn a blind eye to illegal immigration? Obviously not, but that does not mean that immigration should figure so prominently in the Republican platform.
Perhaps President Bush’s approach to the abortion issue could serve as a blueprint. President Bush does not speak about abortion. When asked about the issue, he is less than articulate. Yet he has done more to advance the pro-life cause than any other president, including the most eloquent defender of human life Ronald Reagan.
Pro-life voters can thank President Bush for the partial-birth abortion ban, the Unborn Victims Protection Act, as well as judges Roberts and Alito. In 2004, they did: 23 percent of the people who voted for Bush were single-issue pro-life voters. Meanwhile, there was little or no rhetoric to energize pro-abortion voters.
The same approach should be used for immigration.
A Republican presidential campaign should say very little about immigration. A Republican president could order the Justice Department to enforce the law while publicly advocating more legal immigration. Republicans should quietly enforce the law and loudly argue for greater quotas and a streamlined, less bureaucratic system to enable legal immigration. Likewise, Republicans could put in place a more aggressive program to help Americanize and mainstream immigrants.
Republicans will never have an opportunity to lead on this issue or any other if they do not tone down the rhetoric, however. Eroding Republican support among Latino voters threatens to freeze Republicans into minority status for another 50 years. Perhaps nothing underscores this point more than CNN’s eagerness to ask Republican candidates about immigration during the debates.
Rev. Michael P. Reilly is assistant principal at St. Joseph by the Sea High School in Staten Island, New York.
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