The Wall St Journal is Right (So to Speak) – It’s Make or Break Time for the GOP

June 27th, 2007

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Mitch McConnell gets it. So does Trent Lott. Lindsey Graham understands. And so does Mel Martinez. These four Republican senators recognize the point that the Wall Street Journal makes persuasively in today’s lead editorial – that Republicans have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change their brand from one of inattentiveness to minorities to one of openness. The opportunity comes from the bipartisan, comprehensive immigration bill.

As the Journal points out, Republicans have to face some facts: first, it will take decades – or longer – for for Republicans to make any inroads among African-Americans. They can parade Jack Kemp from here to eternity; they can play the culture card to church pastors, and they can scream to the rafters about their ownership society – but that won’t erase the sins of Nixon’s Southern strategy. When Democrats finally ended the unholy alliance between Northern liberals and Southern segregationists, Republicans filled the void.

But there is no such Republican sin against Hispanics, and the four prominent Republicans know it, understanding that they have a real opportunity to make gains with Hispanics. To varying degrees, they have all helped move the immigration bill forward. It is not a perfect bill – no immigration bill ever is. But it is tough on the border, fair to taxpayers, and practical in terms of solving the problem and restoring the rule of law. It is doesn’t offer charity to undocumented workers – it is a fair and practical approach to a complex problem.

But Republicans must understand that among Hispanics, this is a watershed moment. Passage of the Kennedy-Kyl Bill – with Bush’s support and deep bipartisan backing – would forever change the perception of the GOP among Hispanics.

Why is this important? The Journal notes that Hispanics are the fastest growing segment of the population, but they are also the ethnic group with the most rapidly rising income. Between 1996 and 2004, not only did Hispanic participation in the electorate double (from 4.1% to 8.4%), but the average income of Hispanic voters grew by 20% – or twice as fast as those of blacks, whites, and Asians. And as their wealth increased, so did their interest in the Republican Party (and, perhaps, The Wall Street Journal). The 50% of Hispanics with over $50,000 in household income split their vote between Bush and Kerry.

Now Republican gains are in jeopardy. Already they declined between 2004 and 2006 because the Tancredo wing of the party was the loudest on immigration. They can get them back by doing the right thing on substance and the right thing on politics. Reject the right-wing populists who preach fear, nativism, and stasis. Stand behind Lott, Graham, Martinez, McConnell, Kyl, and of course, President Bush. Pass this bill, modernize the party, and begin to reap the rewards of openness.