Much more important than Jeb Bush’s recent lecture to Republicans on a “broader approach” toward immigration is the new plea for policy overhaul from a core part of the party’s constituency: conservative evangelicals.
As the NYT reports, these evangelicals are calling for a new look at immigration:
The call by the groups represents a recognition that in one bedrock element of the conservative movement — evangelical Christians — the demography of their followers is changing, becoming more Hispanic, and that Republican leaders risk being out of step with their hawkish talk of border fences and immigration crackdowns like those in Arizona.
Tom Minnery, the senior vice president of policy for one evangelical group, Focus on the Family, said many of the 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants should be free to “come out of the shadows” and “begin the process of restitution” leading to attaining legal residency.
This sign of flexibility on immigration from a key building block of the Republican base is the best possible news for the Romney campaign. As Mickey Kaus and others have pointed out, this does not mean that the GOP has to accept the PC party line on immigration pushed by “official” spokesmen and groups. Attitudes among US citizens with roots in the Spanish speaking world on immigration are more complicated and nuanced than liberal orthodoxy would have it.
But it has long been accepted in Republican policy circles that the party will need to appeal to Hispanics in order to remain competitive in a demographically changing America and a simple message of hostility to newcomers is not going to work. More, immigration remains broadly popular in the country; according to a recent Gallup poll, 66 percent of the public thinks immigration is good for the country and only 21 percent thinks that the current level of immigration should be decreased. Possibly reflecting public awareness that illegal immigration has fallen in recent years, more Americans think we should focus on dealing with the illegals already here than on stopping the flow of new ones.
Governor Romney has not so far showed the grace and balance of Nik Wallenda and has stumbled off the tightrope candidates have to walk on this issue. His statements about favoring “self-deportation” of immigrants have done him no favors. But now the campaign has some wiggle room on the right as it works to craft an approach that can reach out to a minority that on both economic and social issues is open to Republican ideas.
Governor Romney’s success of failure at using this opening to develop a sensible and sustainable immigration policy will be an important test, not only of his electability, but of his ability to do the job for which he has been running so long and so hard.