"Can Conservatism Survive... Ramesh Ponnuru And David Frum?"
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September 01, 2010

In 1997, Peter Brimelow and Ed Rubenstein wrote a cover piece for National Review, Electing a New People, which argued forcefully that, if not checked, the demographic changes brought forth by mass immigration would doom the GOP to a minority status.

Brimelow and Rubenstein simply noted that, assuming the white share of the Republican vote and the Democratic share of the minority vote stayed constant at the level of 1988, the 2008 election would be the last year the GOP would have 50% of the vote.

This argument was ignored by the GOP Establishment. And shortly thereafter William F. Buckley purged Brimelow and Rubenstein from National Review, alongside Editor John O'Sullivan, and replaced them with the likes of David Frum and Ramesh Ponnuru.

Both Ponnuru and Frum claimed to support some immigration restriction. But they attacked conservatives who really meant it. They both were particularly hard on Pat Buchanan, whom Frum called an "unpatriotic conservative" and Ponnuru accused of practicing "identity politics for white people".

Thirteen years later, on Wednesday September 1, the Center for Immigration Studies held a sobering panel at the National Press Club on the topic "Can Conservatism Survive Mass Immigration?" It featured University of Maryland Professor James G. Gimpel who wrote the February 2010 CIS backgrounder Immigration, Political Realignment, and the Demise of Republican Political Prospects, along with…David Frum and Ramesh Ponnuru.

Gimpel's backgrounder confirms much of what Brimelow and Rubenstein said in 1997 (without acknowledgement, of course). It adds a number of other insights by looking the 100 largest counties and comparing their change in immigrant population to electoral change. Not surprisingly, growing immigrant populations are inversely related to the success of Republicans.

For example, Los Angeles went 50.2% for Republicans in 1980 down to 32.7% in 2000 down to 28.8% in 2008. At the same time, its immigrant share of the population went up from 22.3% to 36.2% to 41%.

This same trend is the same right across the 100 largest counties.

Gimpel controls for other factors and summarizes.

"The conclusion is inescapable and uncomplicated. As the immigrant population has grown, Republican electoral prospects have dimmed, even after controlling for alternative explanations of GOP performance. A typical drop in Republican support in a large metro area county is about six percentage points. In other words, an urban county that cast 49 percent of its vote for the Republican candidate in 1980 could be expected to drop to 43 percent by 2008." James G. Gimpel, Center for Immigration Studies, February 2010]

But Gimpel's talk during Wednesday's press conference barely touched his findings. He limited his comments to explaining some basic facts about party identification in relation to immigration, and to the 2010 election. He noted that, despite talk of swing voters, party identification is not very fluid. He sees it more akin to an identity—like a religion or ethnicity—than an opinion.

Both Gimpel and CIS executive director Mark Krikorian acknowledged that, whatever Karl Rove claims, it is highly unlikely that Hispanic voting patterns will change—and that therefore it is worth considering whether or not we want to increase their share of the population and, by extension, of the electorate.

More interesting than Krikorian and Gimpel's comments, and certainly more inadvertently revealing, were those of Frum and Ponnuru.

Frum actually made some sensible points during his initial comments. He noted that the idea that Hispanics are going to become socially conservative Republicans is a myth. He said that is perfectly logical for Hispanics to support the Democrats because they offer more government goodies. He continued that there is very little upward mobility among Hispanics, which is unlikely to change, so they will continue to be a dependency class for the foreseeable future.

Frum made another pointed observation: as American whites are confronted with minority immigration, the working and middle class has come to the GOP. This has led to a situation where non-college educated whites are voting Republican, while the wealthy whites are voting for the Democrats.

So far so good. I was shocked to find myself agreeing with almost everything Frum said.

But then Frum regressed into his usual neocon self. He argued that the fact that the working class is supporting Republicans creates a huge gap where "A party that speaks about freedom and enterprise" is steadfastly "denying change to Medicare."

Frum is implying here that conservatives and the GOP have no right to say they support free enterprise if they oppose Obama's socialist health care plan—because it was going to be paid in part by cutting Medicare benefits. While this was not the driving reason why conservatives and Republicans opposed Obamacare, a lot of senior citizens certainly did not want the benefits that they paid into taken away and then given to illegal immigrants and other members of the underclass for free. What hypocrites!

Frum's larger implication: if the Republicans are going to be the party of "enterprise", then they need to be the party of the wealthy, and must abandon social conservatism to achieve this.

Frum's attacks on Middle America continued: he insisted that this resentful Medicare-loving white middle class base were all racists. He said you didn't need to be "hypersensitive" to see the "racial code" in the Tea Parties and Glen Beck.

But when asked about this secret code, all Frum could come up with is that many claim that Joseph Cao was a not a "true Republican" because of his left-wing voting record. (Even Ramesh Ponnuru called him out on this and noted that the GOP says the same about "Massachusetts Americans".)

Over the issue of birthright citizenship, Frum's animosity to the South could not be concealed. He described pro-amnesty Lindsey Graham (a recent convert on birthright citizenship) as a "Senator from South Carolina" who says "Dred Scott was rightly decided."

Frum cannot honestly believe this. Dred Scott ruled that African Americans were not US Citizens. But Graham is merely suggesting that the 14th Amendment, which was meant to give citizenship to slaves, should not also be extended to give citizenship to the U.S.-born children of illegal aliens.

I have attended both a number of Tea Parties as well as some pro-SB 1070 rallies. The organizers go out of their way to invite minority speakers. The minorities in the crowd who are not speaking are welcomed. In fact, I see lots of Tea Partiers going up to them and thanking them for being there.

Those racist Dred Scott vs. Sanford-supporting white South Carolina Republicans nominated minority candidates Nikki Haley and Tim Scott in June.

It might be true that the mere fact of their being a tiny minority in the Tea Party does turn off non-whites. But that is the result of their co-ethnics not being conservative, not because any lack of genuine outreach on the part of white conservatives.

The bottom line: there is absolutely nothing the GOP and the Tea Party Movement can do to appeal to minority voters that they haven't already done.

Like Frum, Ponnuru actually made some good points at first, but then descended into the usual triangulation and defeatism.

He began by agreeing that mass immigration is a real problem for the GOP in the long run. He agreed that it is unlikely that Hispanics are going to turn Republican anytime soon. And if we do want to make them assimilate and vote Republican, a pause in immigration would speed up the process.

After acknowledging all of this, he asserted we must ask if, "assuming that the GOP decided it was in their interest to have less immigration", could they enact such a policy?

Ponnuru claims the answer is "no". He argues that, although the majority of voters oppose more immigration, "there is no intensity."

But if Americans' reaction to the Bush amnesty drive in 2006 and 2007, and over Arizona's SB 1070 today, isn't "intensity", I don't know what is.

Ponnuru continued: "Voters who vote on immigration are more likely to support more immigration."  I have never seen any poll to this effect. I think Ponnuru just imagined it.

He went on that any "serious but unsuccessful" attempt to restrict immigration would worsen the problem. In other words we shouldn't try to limit immigration—because we might fail.

Ponnuru claimed that conservatives can still do outreach to minorities without sacrificing their principles. When asked what this means, he suggested advertising on minority radio (which Republicans already do) and added that, while there are merits to the policy, ending birthright citizenship would appear to be a "mean spirited attack on children"

But abandoning a policy that you believe (or claim to believe) is right, which Ponnuru did in his October 8, 2007 NR piece Getting Immigration Right, because you think it will not fare well at the ballot box is the definition of abandoning your principles.

Besides, ending birthright citizenship is enormously popular.

If anchor babies are off limits, what policies can we pursue successfully? Ponnuru was asked if he would simply agree to end the visa lottery and chain migration as well as crackdown on illegal immigration. He said this was not politically feasible.

In 2001, Ramesh Ponnuru attacked Peter Brimelow and Pat Buchanan for advocating a moratorium and daring to mention the ethno-demographic changes caused by mass immigration. He instead called for a "restrictionism that could succeed". Today, it appears that even the most modest restrictions can't succeed.

Based on the good things Frum and Ponnuru said towards the beginning of their remarks, it is clear that they understand that mass immigration poses a huge threat to this country. But not only are they unwilling to fight for this country, they are undermining and attacking those who do.

The Center for Immigration Studies should be congratulated for publishing Gimpel's excellent paper. It is a shame that it let his insights be lost in a cloud of fashionable Beltway defeatism.

Jason McDonald [email him] writes from Potomac, MD.

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