As a libertarian working in grassroots organizing, the Tea Party is a close frenemy of mine. Since my work concentrates solely on promoting economic freedom in the state of Illinois, I have found many a great activist among the Tea Party ranks. If we are talking fiscal issues or government oversight, I constantly find myself nodding in agreement with members of the TP.
But, if you‘ve ever attended a Tea Party meeting, you know that free markets are not the only issue they feel compelled to fight for. The conversation typically takes a sinister turn toward social issues, immigration, and (*facepalm*) President Obama’s alleged involvement in the Muslim Brotherhood.
Many of the beliefs held by (some of) the Tea Party members regarding these issues are simply not grounded in fact or reality. There is little evidence that Obama is a Muslim and less suggesting that his supposed secret religion impacts his policy decisions.
Their stated rationale for opposing immigration reform is even more skewed.
Immigration reform is loosely defined as “political discussion regarding changes to current immigration policy of a country. In its strict definition, “reform” means to change into an improved form or condition, by amending or removing faults or abuses.” There is a difference between reform and amnesty—something the Tea Party often fails to note.
In a recent American Thinker article, Tea Partier Tina Trent claims that the New York Times “papered over” the issue of amnesty in their reporting of the Cantor upset because they didn’t want “to draw attention to the fact that most American citizens disagree with open-borders politics.” She offers no statistics or citation to back this claim, but goes on to say:
“If we don’t put all our current energy into closing the border and defeating amnesty legislation, none of our other fights will matter. We cannot allow even our best political friends to exert control over our position on immigration and amnesty.”
Trent is clearly not the only conservative to think this way. The Tea Party has a clear no-immigration-reform stance; they booted Majority Leader Eric Cantor for merely supporting reform and they threaten to oust the GOP gubernatorial candidate in Illinois for openly supporting immigration reform.
What Americans really think (or feel) about immigration is harder to parse out than the average conservative wants to admit, but it’s clear that Americans believe something must happen. A recent Gallup poll shows that 65% of Americans disapprove of President Obama’s handling of immigration—only 31% approve.
In a May Politico poll, likely voters in contested midterms were asked “How important is the issue of comprehensive immigration reform in determining which candidate you support in November?” 73% responded either “Very Important” or “Somewhat Important.” This 73% came from voters who split evenly on other traditionally left/right issues like abortion and marijuana legalization.
We need massive reform to our immigration system, and the voters know it, but with Cantor’s recent defeat, GOP leadership is going to be wary of turning off their Tea Party and conservative activist base by approaching such a hot button issue. But if Boehner and House Republicans don’t do something soon, they face galvanizing a whole new generation of Latino voters against the Republican party.
The Democrats and the president are on very shaky political ground this cycle. They face seemingly endless scandals revealing an administration replete with corruption. Voters don’t like the Affordable Care Act, and the President faces approval ratings that left-wing Chuck Todd implied effectively end his presidency.
Now is the time for Republicans to move on some common sense, fair, and workable immigration reform. Recently, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform have allied to advocate for reforms that include securing the border and allowing undocumented residents to obtain work visas and start paying income taxes—with no path to citizenship.
Republicans should join with Rand Paul to push something that won’t alienate their base but will fix a system desperately in need of repair. If they don’t, not only will the system remain broken, but Republicans will have a hopeless battle for Latino support in 2016, a situation that the Tea Party is gravely making worse. As noted by Peter Beinart in an article at theatlantic.com:
“The irony is that by preventing the GOP from adjusting to a younger, less white, less Anglo country, grassroots Republicans are hastening the very liberal dominance they fear. As Ezra Klein has noted, by defeating Cantor—and thus making congressional Republicans too afraid to pass immigration reform—the GOP just makes it more likely Latinos will flock to Hillary Clinton in 2016.”
In the words of Morton Blackwell, select conservatives need to stop making “the perfect the enemy of the good.” There will be no jobs for “illegal” immigrants to take if the nation’s job growth doesn’t pick up, and that will not happen if we neglect fixing the economy for building literal walls around our borders.