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May 16, 2013
Why Arthur Brooks is wrong: The amnesty folly
Posted by Laura
In the Wall Street Journal, Arthur Brooks, president of the conservative think-tank American Enterprise Institute, argues that the GOP is missing a huge opportunity to woo Hispanic and Asian voters if it doesn't sign on to comprehensive immigration reform. Republicans are too pessimistic about what the future will look like, he argues, when millions of formerly illegal immigrants given legal status and eventually voting rights:

"In some apocalyptic visions, Republicans become a permanent minority through demographic change and the inability to appeal to a population that is inevitably hostile to conservative ideology. Do the math, the warning goes, and even places like Texas start to turn blue. This will only be accelerated by regularizing the status and citizenship of millions of Hispanics in the coming years. As the old saying goes, when you're in a hole, stop digging. So hit the brakes now on immigration reform."

He then contends people like Sen. Jeff Sessions, former Sen. Jim DeMint, and myself make two false assumptions.

First, he says that "it is not true that an increasing Hispanic population means an increasing  vote share for Democrats."

Second, he says that "it is not true that a conservative message will fail to appeal to Hispanics."

Brooks then goes on to make his own assumption:  that there is a huge group of Hispanic voters out there who are politically conservative, but who do not vote because of "the inability or unwillingness of most conservative politicians to address the issue of primary importance to all groups of Hispanic voters:  care for the poor."  This is based on evidence that Hispanics are more than a third likelier than non-Hispanics to say that the government should do more to improve standards of living for the needy, and that they are 12 percentage points more likely than non-Hispanics to say the government gives "too little assistance to the poor."  He then concludes that because Republicans have nothing to say about helping the poor, "the silent conservative Hispanic base" stays home on election day.  Thus, "[t]he solution is to make a serious conservative bid to help the poor and vulnerable."

OK, let's look at this in some detail:

1.  In the first place, it seems clear that the Hispanics already know how they want to help the poor and vulnerable – they want more government spending.  According to his own article, 74 percent of Hispanics think that the government should be doing more.  In other words, only 26 percent of Hispanics don't think that the government should be doing more.   There's no evidence that a huge number of Hispanics are looking for a party that wants to shrink the size of government.

2.  He seems to think that non-voting Hispanics, who are more likely to agree that "hard work" is more important than "lucky breaks or help from other people" would be open to proposals that didn't involve more government expenditures.  But there's no reason to believe so.  It seems obvious that many Hispanics believe both that "hard work" is important and that the government should be doing more.  This is not surprising.  In the Great Depression, I'm sure that many Americans who voted for FDR and the New Deal (including my grandparents) also believed in the importance of hard work.

3.  To the extent he thinks we have a communications problem with Hispanic voters – he says we should "make it clear that the safety net for the indigent and needy is not the source of our fiscal problems" – we could work on that problem without rewarding illegal immigrants, or by making it easier for Big Business to use illegal immigration to drive down wages.  By all means, let's preach the gospel of fiscal conservatism to Hispanics.  Let's go into their neighborhoods.  Let's run political ads.  Let's do everything we can to persuade them – short of adopting a disastrous amnesty proposal that will make a joke of our national sovereignty.

4.  He also proposes that we "put education reform in poor communities front and center," and that "{c}onservatives must be the warriors for pro-child, pro-parent, pro-innovation and pro-choice education reforms."  Actually, conservatives have been fighting for these issues since at least the 1960's, and it's a slander to imply that they have not.  Of course conservative should keep fighting this battle, but to pretend that we aren't already doing this is absurd.

5.  He also proposes that conservatives "should fight every day to get the government out of the way of a healthy culture for vulnerable American families."  Again, WE ARE ALREADY DOING THIS, and have done so for decades.  Of course, we should keep up the good fight – but it is foolishly naïve to think that we are losing Hispanic votes because conservatives aren't fighting hard enough in the culture wars.

6.  He concludes by saying that "{i}f they commit to a long-term agenda to help the vulnerable – whether they are Hispanic or from any other group – conservatives have nothing to fear in the changing face of America."  This is an insult to all conservatives, because it implies that up to this point, we didn't care what happened to the vulnerable.  For over 40 years, conservatives have fought hard to convince Americans – ALL AMERICANS – that our path is the best path for everyone, including the poor.  And we will continue to do so.  But to agree to a massive overhaul of the immigration laws, in the hope that somehow those efforts will finally start to pay off, is ludicrous.

7.  So now let's go back to his two claims.  First, he said that "it is not true that an increasing Hispanic population means an increasing vote share for Democrats."  The only evidence that he has put forward in support of this claim is that there are significant numbers of Hispanics who don't vote, and that those Hispanics are more likely than the others to call themselves "political conservatives" and to "express conservative attitudes."  But the same polling data show that as a whole (including the Hispanics who don't vote), Hispanics are more supportive of big-government programs to help the poor than non-Hispanics.  Thus, it seems clear that unless very large numbers of Hispanic voters change their minds – or the GOP starts endorsing Big Government spending programs – an increasing Hispanic population will, in fact, mean an increasing vote share for Democrats.

8.  Second, he said that "it is not true that a conservative message will fail to appeal to Hispanics."  Well, we all hope and trust that this is the case, but he certainly hasn't proven that it will work.  Instead, he shows that despite decades of conservative speeches, books, radio shows, and other efforts to get out their message, Hispanics overwhelmingly believe that the government should be doing more to help the poor.  I would also note that we had a GOP President – George W. Bush – who did support big government programs, who supported amnesty for illegal immigrants, and who made a massive effort to reach out to Hispanic voters.  In 2004, he was crushed among Hispanic voters by John Kerry.  Bush supporters claim he got 44 percent of this Hispanic vote in 2004 – which would still be a blowout loss.  But that figure is based on exit poll data.  Other, more detailed estimates indicate that Bush likely received 41 percent of the Hispanic vote.  You can see that figure here.

If that's correct, then Kerry beat Bush among Hispanics by 59-41 percent – basically the same percentage by which Reagan beat Mondale in 1984.  That's a devastating defeat.

So, is it possible that someday conservatives will be able to reach more Hispanic voters?  Of course it is.  But it's also the case that in recent years, no one – not even the Bushes – have been able to figure out how to get most of the Hispanic vote.

Many conservative supporters of amnesty have noble motives – they want to help folks from other countries, they want to help illegal immigrants who are already here, they want to ease tensions between conservatives and Hispanics.  I sympathize with those goals.  But too often in recent years, conservatives have gotten themselves in trouble because they placed their faith in overly optimistic predictions that proved not to be wildly accurate in the real world.  Instead of spending so much time spinning scenarios about how amnesty could be good for Republicans, conservatives should face the stark truth that under most realistic assumptions, moving toward an open-borders system will be a huge boon for the Democrats, and an utter disaster for the right.

05/16/13 12:44 PM
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