Although the Bush Administration's plan for granting amnesty to illegal Mexican immigrants strikes most Republicans as bad for their country and bad for their party, it remains as hard to kill as the Monkey's Paw, in large part due to its author Karl Rove's reputation as a political genius.
Sure, amnesty doesn't make much sense to you or me. But what do we know—compared to the infallible Rove?
The truth, however, is that Rove's minority outreach initiatives have a lousy track record. And his disastrous attempt to win Muslim votes foreshadowed all the errors he's making with Mexican outreach.
Rove's Muslim project began in early 1997 during a meeting with the energetic Republican insider Grover Norquist. (When I met Grover a decade ago, his stumpy physique and the very long, very red beard he wore back then made him look exactly like the charming little brother of the big mean troll that lived under the bridge in my sons' favorite book at the time, The Three Billy Goats Gruff.) Rove and Norquist discussed "the need for Republicans to embrace Muslim Americans," according to Tom Hamburger and Glenn R. Simpson in the Wall Street Journal (June 11, 2003):
"That brief conversation in Austin, Texas, helped start a new chapter in Mr. Norquist's career—and in the political lives of Muslims in this country. The following year, Mr. Norquist started the nonprofit Islamic Free Market Institute. In collaboration with Mr. Rove, now Mr. Bush's chief political adviser, he and other institute leaders courted Muslim voters for the Bush 2000 presidential campaign…
"Norquist's Institute's main supporter has been the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, from which it has received hundreds of thousands of dollars since 1998. In 2001, the last year for which complete records are available, roughly 80% of the institute's $641,000 in contributions came from foreign governments, companies and individuals writing checks on foreign banks. …
"Mr. Norquist helped secure a promise from presidential candidate Bush to moderate federal policy on investigating suspected illegal immigrants. In a nationally televised debate on Oct. 11, 2000, Mr. Bush said: 'Arab-Americans are racially profiled in what's called secret evidence .... We've got to do something about that.' …
"Twice during the debate, Mr. Norquist says, Mr. Rove phoned him at home to draw his attention to the remark and urge him to "put the word out" among Muslims. Mr. Rove says he doesn't remember making such calls."
The White House enthusiastically followed up on this pledge. In fact, according to Jake Tapper in Salon, President Bush was scheduled to meet with Muslim and Arab leaders at 3 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2001—to update them on the progress the Administration had made in eliminating Clinton Administration anti-terrorism policies that had a disparate impact on Muslims!
Indeed, Florida college professor Sami Al-Arian claims, "At 3:30 [on 9-11] the president would have announced the end of secret evidence."[Sept. 11 hurt aliens' rights, By Grace Agostin, University of South Florida Oracle, September 09, 2002] Al-Arian, whose brother-in-law Mazen al-Najjar had been locked up based on evidence supplied by a government informant inside a terrorist gang, campaigned for Bush in 2000 and had his picture taken with the candidate.
And Mary Jacoby reported in the St. Petersburg Times (March 11, 2003):
"In June 2001, Al-Arian was among members of the American Muslim Council invited to the White House complex for a briefing by Bush political adviser Karl Rove. The next month, the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom—a civil liberties group headed by Al-Arian—gave Norquist an award for his work to abolish the use of secret intelligence evidence in terrorism cases, a position Bush had adopted in the 2000 campaign."
One obvious problem for the Rove-Norquist effort: many of the U.S.-based Muslim organizations that they hope to work with are funded by the rulers of the Persian Gulf oil states precisely to direct Muslim Arab discontent away from themselves and toward that convenient scapegoat, the West. As American Conservative Union President David Keene, wrote, "The problem is that moderate Muslims control few organizations and have virtually no voice. Most of them, in fact, know better than to challenge the Wahhabis."
But Rove's Muslim outreach plan also suffered all the characteristic problems of his other, more celebrated outreach strategies:
(1) Exaggeration of the potential gains.
(2) Failure at the ballot box.
(3) Underestimation of the electoral costs of irritating rival groups.
(4) (Most importantly,) utter disdain for the interests of the American people.
Let's take them in order:
1. Exaggeration of the potential gains
Roveans typically make two mistakes when salivating over targeted ethnicities:
[A] Accepting bloated estimates of their numbers;
[B] Lumping together disparate, even hostile, groups.
"Hispanic immigrants are the fastest-growing and politically most fluid segment of the electorate. They were 7 percent of voters in 2000 and could be 9 percent in 2004…"
Bunk! No way, no how, will Hispanics (much less Barone's "Hispanic immigrants") account for 9 percent in 2004. If recent trends continue, they'll barely break 6 percent.
Exactly the same goes for the estimates of Muslims in America put out by Muslim pressure groups—for example, Norquist's Islamic Institute's claim of "more than five million." The real number, according to a Center for Immigration Studies report by Daniel Pipes and Khalid Durán, is probably about three million.
[B] Lumping together disparate groups. Rove and Norquist put together a campaign aimed at Muslim Arabs. (That's where the money is!). They simply assumed this would make the GOP more appealing to Muslims and Arabs.
W-R-O-N-G! Most of those three million Muslims aren't Arabs. Many are South Asians or Persians. Others are African-American converts. And most Arab-Americans aren't Muslim. They're Christians from the Levant.
Some of these Muslims have reasons to dislike Arabs. For example, Iran was attacked by Arab Iraq from 1980-1988. And lots of Christian Arab-Americans had relatives in Beirut who were shelled by Muslims from 1975-1991.
Many Christian Arabs, especially the ones whose ancestors came here before 1924, are well assimilated and just don't care much about which party is playing the Arab ethnic card.
For example, can you name the other Arab-American Bush Cabinet appointee besides Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham?
Answer: Mitch Daniels, former head of the Office of Management & Budget, who is of Syrian descent. But he doesn't make a big deal out of it. (Note how hard James Zogby of the Arab-American Institute had to work in this column to show that Daniels cares at all about Arab issues, compared to Abraham.)
The actual number of individuals who are Muslims and Arab-Americans and voters is miniscule. The Muslim Arab population in the U.S. turns out to be only 600,000 according to Pipes and Duran. Because many of this 600,000 are non-citizens, children, or otherwise non-voters, the Muslim Arab proportion of the vote is probably under 0.3 percent.
Exactly the same is true, as I have pointed out repeatedly, of Hispanics. The Mexican-American bloc that Rove's amnesty is targeting turns out to be an underwhelming 3.0 percent of the vote in 2000. And Rove assumes that he can please all the Hispanics by giving amnesty just to Mexicans—incredibly, since this means discriminating against non-Mexican Hispanics.
Perhaps if the Bush Administration worked hard enough, it could start to unify these various groups into one domestic power bloc. Instead of "divide and conquer" strategy, this would be "unite and surrender."
There is, indeed, some evidence this is happening following the Nixon Administration decision to treat "Hispanics" and "Asians" as catch-all categories for the purposes of the Census—and for Affirmative Action handouts.
But is it (ahem) prudent for Rove and Co. to turn Muslims immigrants into a bloc—especially considering the anti-Americanism rampant in their homelands?
2. Failure at the ballot box.
The Rove-Norquist Muslim outreach proved a bust in 2000. The only state where there are enough Muslims for it to make any sense at all was Michigan. Bush wound up losing Michigan. Spencer Abraham lost his U.S. Senate seat.
Nobody knows much about which way the national Muslim vote went—for a significant reason: it's too small to be measured accurately—but prominent Arab Christian pollster John Zogby has said "My data indicates that it was tilted Democratic in 2000. It went more for Gore and Nader than for Bush." [National Review, March 19, 2003, Fight on the Right by Byron York]
3. Irritating rival groups
Incredibly, Rove apparently didn't grasp that pandering to Muslim Arabs would come at the cost of scaring their traditional adversaries, the Jews. Bush ended up with a dismal 17 percent of the Jewish vote. Jews don't make up a huge voting bloc (4 percent in 2000) and they are solidly Democratic. But they cast at least an order of magnitude more votes than Muslim Arabs. And the cost wasn't just lost votes: in America, Jews are vastly more influential per capita than Muslim Arabs. Rove's failure to consider this is a mystery.
4. Utter disdain for American interests.
Finally, there is Rove's typical negligence of the needs of Americans as a whole—horribly illustrated by 9-11.
Why did the Administration's cynical and catastrophic program of pandering to the Muslim-Arab vote by cutting back on security disappear down the national memory hole after 9-11-2001? The subject has only begun to be haltingly dredged up this year, with most of the criticism aimed at Norquist.
I suggest a simple psychological explanation: in a national crisis, you must hope that your President and his aides aren't venal fools. It was too painful to remember that he and his top advisor had been pursuing—for trivial political reasons—a policy of proactive negligence toward Arab Muslim terrorism.
"On October 11, 2000, during the second presidential debate, the Republican candidate attacked two anti-terrorist policies that had long irritated Arab citizens of the U.S….
"…Bush conflated two separate policies that Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans felt discriminate against them: the heightened suspicions faced by Middle Eastern-looking travelers at airport security checkpoints and the government's use of 'secret evidence' in immigration hearings of suspected terrorists.
"The day after Bush's remarks, 17 American sailors died in a terrorist attack in the Arab nation of Yemen [carried out, we now know, by the same Al-Qaeda organization that blew up the World Trade Center]. …
"This year , both Bush and his Attorney General John Ashcroft have called for an end to racial profiling… Of course, if Arabs and Muslims are disproportionately more likely to hijack airliners, and the profiling system does not end up disproportionately targeting them, then the system wouldn't work very well at preventing hijackings.
"To ensure that no disparate impact is occurring, the Bush Administration carried out in June  a three-week study, first planned by the Clinton Administration, of whether or not profiling at the Detroit airport disparately impacts Arabs….
"Although [then-Senator Spencer] Abraham's bill repealing the use of secret evidence died in 2000, during his confirmation hearing, Ashcroft endorsed the ban on secret evidence…
"As the practice has come under increasing attack, the number of Arab immigrants detained on secret evidence has dropped sharply. Hussein Ibish of the American Arab Anti-discrimination Committee told UPI in June [i.e. four months before 9-11]: 'Two years ago there were 25 in prison. Now we're down to only one.'
If, instead of putting its Muslim political ploy first, the Bush Administration had merely been as anti-terrorist as the Clinton Administration, could it have caught the Al-Qaeda terrorists?
We don't know. But it's not as if there had been no clues—for example, a month earlier, actor James Woods had figured out, all by himself, that a hijacking was in the works.
The Bush Administration has prudently resisted a full scale Congressional investigation.
But here's another question: Would Karl Rove be considered a genius today if 9-11 hadn't sparked a rally-round-the-President reaction in the 2002 election?