National Review Online, August 31, 2015
Conservative luminaries have been warning that Donald Trump poses a threat to the Republican party and to the political future of conservativism. Charles Krauthammer has called him "political poison." Fred Barnes says Trump has "made the GOP's future dicey." George Will thunders characteristically that "every sulfurous belch from the molten interior of the volcanic Trump phenomenon injures the chances of a Republican presidency."
All this may be true. Trump is indeed a braggart who goes out of his way to antagonize people — not a winning approach in electoral politics. And he's shown little real commitment to conservative principles — or principles of any other kind, for that matter.
But Trump is not the long-term problem faced by the Right. Ramesh Ponnuru's assurance regarding Trump that "this too shall pass" may be underestimating Trump's staying power, but at some point he will pass.
But if mass legal immigration is permitted to continue, the Right is finished regardless of what Trump does or says.
If the federal immigration program continues to operate at its current pace — about 1 million green cards issued per year — it will create nearly 15 million potential new voters over the next two decades, disproportionately liberal, as I will explain below. If Senator Rubio and the rest of the Republican establishment had gotten its way and the House had passed Chuck Schumer's bill, the number of these potential new voters minted by mass immigration by 2036 would have been more than double that, over 32 million.
What are the likely political leanings of these millions of voters imported by Congress and the president? Conservative immigration romantics imagine them to be natural Republicans, having a right-winger inside just waiting to burst out, if only they're welcomed with open arms.
Unfortunately, a mountain of survey research gives us no reason to believe that to be the case. Put simply, immigrants and their adult children are disproportionately big-government liberals who vote heavily Democrat because that party's policies accord with their own views and interests.
This conclusion isn't based on tendentious survey questions or a one-off poll that doesn't reflect true views. Rather, survey after survey after survey after survey hammers the point home: Immigration increases the electoral power of the Left.
Let's look at just a sprinkling of the findings (examine them in more detail in a comprehensive review of immigrant policy preferences published by Eagle Forum). The 2008 National Annenberg Election Survey found that 62 percent of immigrants supported government health insurance, as opposed to 45 percent of the native-born. The 2010 Cooperative Congressional Election Study found 58 percent of immigrants supported affirmative action, versus 35 percent of natives.
The Pew Research Center found in 2011 that Hispanics (mainly immigrants or the children of immigrants) had the most negative view of capitalism of any group polled — more negative even than self-identified supporters of Occupy Wall Street.
Pew also found that 75 percent of Hispanics preferred a larger government providing more services to a small one providing fewer; the figure for the public at large was just 41 percent. It's true that support for bigger government is lower among the adult grandchildren of Hispanic immigrants, at "only" 58 percent. But not only is even this figure disturbingly high, it's not clear that it tells us anything about the grandchildren of today's immigrants — their grandparents arrived at least half a century ago in a very different America.
Same with gun rights. Pew found that just 29 percent of Hispanics favor protecting gun rights over controlling guns, compared with 57 percent of non-Hispanic whites. The polling firm Latino Decisions reports that significant majorities of Hispanics support background checks for gun purchases, establishing a national database of gun owners, limiting the capacity of magazines, and a ban on semi-automatic weapons. Natural Republicans?
Environmentalism? The National Asian American Survey in 2012 found that 60 percent of people of Asian origin (overwhelmingly immigrants and their adult children) prioritize environmental protection over economic growth, versus 41 percent of the general public. A 2010 L.A. Times-USC poll found that both Hispanics and Asians are significantly more concerned about the environment than whites in California (who are themselves quite liberal on environmental issues).
What about social issues? That's where many of the immigration romantics' hopes lie — after all, aren't Hispanics Catholic and more family-oriented? Unfortunately, it turns out that immigrants are not especially conservative on social issues. They're divided on issues such as abortion, stem-cell research, and gay marriage in ways that are similar to the general public. On abortion, Hispanics are indeed somewhat more conservative than the general public, but Asians are more liberal; among the native-born in both groups (mostly children or grandchildren of immigrants), opinions move substantially to the left.
So immigrants are not especially conservative on social issues, but even the modest differences that do exist with the general public have little political salience. The Public Religion Research Institute, the National Asian American Survey, and others suggest that Hispanics and Asians are less likely to base their votes on social issues than are non-Hispanic whites. As the Eagle Forum report summarized, "Republicans' social conservatism may not be a significant liability with Hispanic and Asian voters; but it is unlikely to win them much support either."
Democrats understand that continuing mass immigration spells the end of small-government conservatism. Eliseo Medina, who is, along with Frances Fox Piven and others, a top functionary in the Democratic Socialists of America and a former official in the Service Employees International Union, has acknowledged that mass immigration "will solidify and expand the progressive coalition for the future."
All this makes perfect sense. The problem is not that immigrants suffer from some kind of moral failing; plenty of native-born Americans hold these same views. Rather, they tend to come from countries where government plays a larger role than here; they tend to settle in urban areas with left-wing political cultures; and they disproportionately benefit from liberal policies such as expansive welfare and affirmative action. It's actually surprising that there are immigrants who are not left-wing — and there are a lot, just not enough to prevent mass immigration from undermining conservatism's prospects as a national force.
Part of the solution to this problem is found in the final item in Trump's immigration plan: "Immigration moderation." Downsizing the federal immigration program would give us a breather, improving the job prospects and reducing welfare dependency, not only of the native-born but also the immigrants already here. Republican efforts at recruiting in immigrant communities might have a chance of catching up to the rapid growth that will take place even without immigration.
Note that better control over illegal immigration — walls, mass deportations, whatever — isn't going to fix this. Most immigration is legal immigration, and that's where change is most needed.
Trump's antics may well be a short-term problem for Republicans and conservatism. But mass immigration is a systemic threat to their viability. And if it continues, it won't matter a whit if every Republican candidate speaks non-stop Spanish and takes his immigration-policy cues from Chuck Schumer — conservatism will be toast.