I have argued that the Beltway Right a.k.a. Conservatism Inc. is simply an elaborate corporate lobbying scam. And it's no secret that its leaders regard patriotic immigration reformers as enemies. But the fact remains that the grassroots American Conservative Movement itself is still a more-or-less coherent socio-cultural grouping. In the end, it will come down to this grouping—the “true conservatives”—to stop the 2013 Amnesty/ Immigration Surge Act…even in “Blue” states like New Jersey.
Leading the battle in the Garden State: Steve Lonegan, former mayor of Bogota, NJ. (Pronounced /b???o?t?/ buh-GO-ta—unlike Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia, whose name is accented on the final syllable. Bogota NJ’s Colombian population is less than 2%, in case you were wondering.)
Lonegan is cruising to the Republican U.S, Senate nomination in the October special election to replace the late lamented Senator from the Treason Lobby, Frank Lautenberg—author of the notorious Amendment.
In many ways, Lonegan is a surprising immigration patriot. His politics are typically Republican, notable for his Scott Walker-type confrontational approach and success in a Democratic town. Lonegan made a name for himself with attacks on unions and taxes, the kinds of issues that warm the heart of the Conservative Establishment. He privatized services and cut spending, notably in regard to education.
Needless to say, despite Lonegan’s success, he was a divisive figure in the opinion of New Jersey Democrats, who organized protests against him. He was the target of a typical liberal political documentary, Anytown USA, which made him out to be a heartless budget-cutter pitted against those who only want to help “our kids” boo hoo.
But, despite this fierce opposition, Lonegan won re-election an Mayor in 1999 and again in 2003. Since 2007, he has served as the state head of Americans for Prosperity, which appears to be a typical Conservatism Inc. free market group.
However, Lonegan does break from the typical Republican mold because of his long record as Mayor on Offical English, illegal immigration, and the National Question.
In 2006, Lonegan asked the CBS Outdoor company to remove a McDonald's billboard that advertised in Spanish. The corpocrats refused and called in their multicultural auxiliaries in the so-called Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey (what???) to accuse Lonegan of, guess what, racism.
But, amazingly, Lonegan didn't back down, calling them “divisive,” and even attempting to make English the official language of Bogota, which the New York Times moaned was a “nativist quest.” [Editorial, September 10, 2006] Lonegan also supported efforts to allow local police to enforce immigration law.
In 2009, in his run for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, Lonegan won the endorsement of the Minuteman Project's founder Jim Gilchrist, who contrasted his record with that of the eventual victor, Chris Christie, who notoriously said “being in this country without proper documentation is not a crime.” Lonegan's campaign rhetoric was admirably forthright. He said illegals “should not receive government services and should be deported.” Even the opposition of his own brother, an immigration attorney (isn't it great when moral posturing and profit coincide?) did not change Lonegan's position. [In a New Jersey Town, an Immigration Fight Pits Brother Against Brother, By Nina Bernstein, NYT, September 4, 2007]
More recently, Young Americans for Liberty invited Lonegan to speak on September 24, 2012 at Montclair State University on free market issues. But immigration became the main story—perhaps indicative of the issue’s mounting pressure in the state. The advertising fliers were all torn down and partway through the speech a student well-trained in “diversity” started screaming hysterically about “fascism.” Lonegan conducted himself well throughout the exchange and refused to back down.
The only black mark that the MSM has found in Lonegan's record is oddly fitting – he allegedly hired two illegal immigrants to put up signs for Americans for Prosperity. [Steven Lonegan’s Awakening (Maybe, New York Times, October 28, 2007] Lonegan argues it was a mistake, ,but it's poetic justice if the Beltway Right's lust for cheap labor even in small things led to a scandal for a stalwart of border security.
Of course, it's not that simple. Americans for Prosperity, even though it is a fiscally conservative group, hosts local and national conferences that exploit Culture War rhetoric from immigration patriots in order to bring in the masses. Past speakers: the late Andrew Breitbart, Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, and even obscure anti-immigration activists like Youth For Western Civilization’s Kevin DeAnna—none of whom are known for their devotion to wonkish economic issues.
At the same time, however, Americans for Prosperity is funded by the Open Borders Koch brothers and also invited speakers like certified Open Borders looney Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist. It appears that all of the culture-war rhetoric and right wing militancy eventually boiled down to tax cuts for rich people—with immigration patriots to be used as “useful idiots.”
Significantly, however, Conservatism Inc. now seems too scared of its own constituents to actually take an overt stand for Open Borders. Even groups like FreedomWorks and Club for Growth are keeping their opinions to themselves these days. [Club for Growth and FreedomWorks to Sit Out Immigration Fight,By David M. Drucker, RollCall, April 2, 2013]
For now, with some exceptions like Norquist, the uneasy alliance between Conservatism Inc. and immigration patriotism remains in effect, and the Beltway Right's attempted betrayals are confined to the shadows.
For that reason, the combative Lonegan is, oddly enough, the perfect compromise choice for New Jersey Republicans. As the state leader of a large free market group, he has credibility with the fiscal conservatives who dominate the Beltway Right and also personal connections with the Tea Party movement and other grassroots conservatives.
Lonegan pledges that the campaign will be focused on issues that would fire up any Sean Hannity viewer– “Obamacare and the IRS scandal.” Apparently this has soothed the New Jersey GOP Establishment: Lonegan is reportedly the front runner
But, at the same time, Lonegan displays a combative style that even by itself can win over the hero-hungry American Right. Remember, Chris Christie was briefly the favorite of conservative activists (even Ann Coulter!) simply because he acted aggressively against liberals. But this faded when Christie made nice with President Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Lonegan, however, is unlikely to be tamed. He pledges that he is a “conservative who is proud to be a conservative” while his strategist promises a “street fight” against likely Democratic candidate and New Jersey's own Barack Obama, Cory Booker—former Mayor of Newark and next Great Black Hope.
Thus, Lonegan has united the entire conservative coalition. Robert Costa of National Review notes that “the state Republican establishment, which has long been hostile to him, has coalesced around his candidacy.” [Steve Lonegan’s Long Shot , July 1, 2013] (Costa, an immigration enthusiast, ignores Lonegan’s record on the issue). Even the insanely popular Christie has pledged support.
It helps that Lonegan is the only statewide Republican running with any name recognition.
How Lonegan can execute his strategy of turning out his base and winning a victory in a low-turnout election? While Obamacare and the IRS scandal sound good on Fox News, the fact is that no one out in America really seems to care.
But Lonegan does have one weapon – the upcoming Amnesty/ Immigration Surge battle.
Polls show that New Jersey residents are opposed to the Senate bill, especially once they find out about the details. Even Hispanic voters in New Jersey show a surprising amount of support.
Lonegan has not abandoned the immigration issue. He called interim Senator Jeff Chiesa, appointed by Chris Christie after Lautenberg’s death, to urge him to oppose the amnesty bill. (Chiesa did not—causing Ann Coulter to break with Christie). Lonegan also featured this opposition prominently on his website, with this comment:
This legislation is a pure and simple amnesty for illegal aliens and if I were a member of the U.S. Senate, I would vote no.
But “immigration” itself is not listed as an issue on Lonegan's website—an extraordinary oversight given that the National Question is what brought Lonegan to statewide attention.
Steve Lonegan is a model movement conservative—but the fact is that there aren't enough “movement conservatives” in New Jersey for him to run on the Beltway Right template and win.
Lonegan needs to keep his Republican allies and donors on board and also pursue independent voters and workers with a wedge issue.
Immigration is that issue. And Lonegan actually has the right position—but it can't just be one more issue, buried far beneath hyperventilating about insider scandals about the IRS and tired slogans about tax-and-spend liberals.
Lonegan needs to run against the Amnesty/ Immigration Surge.
He has the conviction, the record, and the political opportunity to be a different kind of Republican in New Jersey.
One that wins.
But will he do it? Conservatism Inc. (and Governor Christie) won’t like it.
Nevertheless, if Lonegan wants to win, he has to break the mold. In blue-state New Jersey, boilerplate Republicanism won't be enough.
James Kirkpatrick [Email him] travels around the United States looking for a waiter who can speak English.