Modern science has proven the old adage "Elephants Never Forget" to be largely true—if exaggerated. A circus elephant will remember an abusive trainer for years.
But Thomas Nast must not have had this characteristic in mind when he chose that animal to represent the GOP. When Republican activists are in the presence of John McCain—without doubt their biggest abuser on the issue of immigration——they seem to be blocking the issue out of their mind.
During the primaries, all the presidential candidates attacked John McCain for his sponsorship for amnesty for illegal aliens; and argued amongst each other over who was tougher. This nearly tanked McCain's campaign. He only recovered when he said he would "secure the border first" and oppose amnesty. By 2008, all the candidates—including McCain—made immigration a top priority with tough rhetoric and campaign ads. Exit and entry polls of Republican voters—including McCain supporters—saw immigration at or near the top of voter's concerns.
When Tom Tancredo dropped out of the race right before the Iowa caucuses, he was able to say that he had accomplished of the goal of putting immigration at the center of the campaign. The New Yorker declared "Tancredoism" as an "ideological touchstone" for the party. [Return of the Nativist, By Ryan Lizza, December 17, 2007]
At the Republican Convention, however, there was absolutely no inkling that immigration was ever an issue. The closest any of the speakers came to mentioning it was when the priest who gave the invocation on the 4th said to pray extra hard for "the migrant" (The following night, a Rabbi gave an invocation that thanked God for our diversity) and John McCain's platitude in his acceptance speech that everyone from "the boy whose descendents [sic]arrived on the Mayflower" to "the Latina daughter of migrant workers" are "all Americans."
Unless you dug real deep, it was hard to find any delegate who cared about immigration. Tim Carney of the Evans Novak report told me he asked over a hundred delegates what the most important issues to them were, and not one said immigration. Literally all of them said National Security, with the economy and social issues ccoming up next.
I was able to find a few delegates who saw immigration as a top issue, but only by seeking them out based on their buttons. A number of Paul, and even Huckabee and Romney delegates sported low key "Old Right" buttons. When I spoke to them they were furious over McCain's amnesty, and said they would sit out the election or vote for Chuck Baldwin.
One the other side of the spectrum, there were many wearing "Hispanics Unidos Con McCain" buttons. They all said how terrible the GOP's flirtation with nativism was in the last few years, but they felt that McCain has steered the party back in the right direction. When I asked about McCain's abysmal polls with Hispanics, they blamed it on the other nativists in the party who have brought down McCain, and expected his numbers to recover once voters were clear on where he stands.
There are a few factors that make this picture a little less gloomy. While many of the delegates were given their position due to their activism, many were part of the Establishment or big donors and not truly representative of the base. Those who were insufficiently enthusiastic for McCain would have been stripped of their privileges. And all delegates were given talking points by the party for what to say when talking to reporters.
When I actually pressed them, almost all were against his immigration platform. But they were quick to remind me how much worse Obama is—and how we can't allow him to be elected. They usually reminded me that Palin negated any of McCain's shortcomings.
Of course, we really don't know much about what Palin thinks about immigration. Alaska doesn't have many immigrants, and so she hasn't really touched on the issue. There is no record of her saying anything. The extent of her record is not signing (but not vetoing) a law that pre-empted the REAL ID act—which is not necessarily a good thing.
Many point to her support of Pat Buchanan as reason to think she is a restrictionist. But given her vocal backing of both the War in Iraq as well as increased confrontation with Putin, there's no reason to think she's signed on to the entire Buchanan agenda.
The truth is that I have no clue what Palin really thinks about immigration. What I do know is that, for the next 60 days, she will repeat the McCain line on immigration. If McCain gets elected, he will propose amnesty and she will not be able to oppose it. Anyway, it's hard to believe that he will listen to her even if she objects.
Had McCain chosen Pawlenty or Romney, who both been vocal and relatively good on the issue, then it could be perceived as throwing a bone to the restrictionists. But whatever Palin's merits—and she has many—McCain was not thinking about appeasing immigration hawks when he made the choice.
In addition to the delegates inside the convention, there were plenty of protestors outside—and not all of them were from the Left. One of them recognized me from my VDARE.COM column and was with a relatively large group of anti-immigration activists. However, like all Right Wing protestors at the convention, all they did is wave Ron Paul signs. The press and delegates were completely oblivious that their opposition to McCain was in large part due to his immigration policies.
As much as I like Ron Paul, patriotic immigration reformers need to look for others to champion their cause. Like the rest of the GOP, he put out ads touting his border security credentials during the primaries, but has been completely silent on the issue since then—not mentioning it in his speeches or book. He has also taken the wrong side on the SAVE Act and E-Verify.
Does the fact that the GOP faithful are not questioning McCain now, mean that an amnesty will be inevitable if he becomes president?
Fortunately, no. So long as McCain isn't in the room, the GOP is still acting somewhat sensibly.
The new Republican platform is a significant improvement over 2004's two paragraph immigration plank which called for a temporary worker program that "would allow workers who currently hold jobs to come out of the shadows and to participate legally in America's economy" and "apply for citizenship."[PDF]
The latest platform removes those provisions. And there is absolutely nothing objectionable policy-wise. It says immigration "must serve the national interest," and it calls for cutting funds for sanctuary cities, enacting E-verify nationwide, denying benefits—specifically social security, in state tuition, and driver's licenses—to illegal aliens, expediting deportations, and allowing for increased cooperation between state, local, and federal law enforcement. [PDF]
Although attempts to define amnesty, end birthright citizenship (even for "the Latina daughter of migrant workers,") and pardon Ramos and Compean did not make the final cut, the platform is still a victory—albeit small and symbolic.
Even after McCain's primary victory, the grassroots has still blocked attempts to reintroduce AgJobs and kill E-Verify. The patriotic immigration reform movement has already had its greatest electoral victory in years when Jason Chaffetz beat pro-amnesty Chris Cannon in the GOP primary. Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta looks poised to defeat Paul Kanjorski; and there are a number of other Congressional races where immigration control may be a winning issue.
But if they win enough congressional (and local) victories, and keep the heat on whoever the next president is, they can still make serious progress.
Marcus Epstein [send him mail] is the founder of the Robert A Taft Club and the executive director of the The American Cause and Team America PAC. A selection of his articles can be seen here. The views he expresses are his own.