It’s Official: The Republican Primary Isn’t About The Economy, It’s About Immigration - New Republic
At present, the Republican presidential campaigns opposing Newt Gingrich must look at the unlikely front-runner as something of a piñata: a big, fat target ready to explode, showering votes on his rivals, once it is decided which angle offers the most decisive blow. There are plenty of ripe lines of attack, most notably Gingrich’s endless flip-flopping on global climate change punctuated by his notorious 2007 ad with Nancy Pelosi. His record of support for an individual mandate to purchase health insurance should also be tempting to opponents, given the issue’s prominence in the news as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on its constitutionality. And though personal attacks are always trickier, you’d figure rivals could find some way to remind the Christian Right leaders who are toying with a Gingrich endorsement that this thrice-married, twice-converted man is hardly a convincing champion of godly behavior.
Of all these possible avenues, however, it is truly a sign of the times that the angle of attack most are choosing is Newt’s recent position on immigration. We have been monotonously told that this election is about the economy and the federal budget, not social issues, and in any event Republicans understand the general election risk of alienating Hispanic voters. But with the smoking ruins of Rick Perry’s candidacy still on display, it’s far past time to reassess both of those assumptions: Immigration remains a key issue to millions of Republican caucus and primary voters—in spite of, not because of, the economy—and they will not accept candidates taking the “wrong” position on the matter for the sake of electability.
Any analysis of this issue must begin with the understanding that immigration is a black-and-white moral challenge to a majority of conservative activists. It’s not the product of some recession-related anxiety about immigrants taking jobs; indeed, in many parts of the country (particularly in the South), the Hispanic presence in the economy and in the population has visibly diminished during the last couple of years. Accordingly, recent conservative immigrant-bashing has been focused not on undocumented workers taking away jobs, but on their families’ alleged dependence on welfare (the main issue in California’s famous Proposition 187 debate during the 1990s) and on their alleged collective conspiracy to use “anchor babies” born in the United States to colonize the country with large families living off the public-assistance fat of the land. That is why Perry’s stubborn defense of public educational subsidies for the children of undocumented workers struck such a powerfully destructive chord with Tea Partiers.