CPAC 2016 Event on Immigration Rhetoric

By Jon Feere on March 3, 2016

The Conservative Political Action Conference is back and, like last year, it has little to offer people in favor of immigration enforcement and reduced immigration. Two immigration-related events are listed on the official schedule — one Wednesday, which I attended and discuss below, and one on Friday. The third potential discussion of immigration may be on the part of presidential candidate Donald Trump, who takes the main stage on Saturday (he was the only main-stage speaker to devote time to immigration at CPAC 2014).

Yesterday's event was titled "The Latino Vote: The Beginning or the End of the Conservative Movement", and was hosted by Mike Madrid, a political consultant from GrassrootsLab in California. The CPAC official who introduced him noted that Madrid hailed from a state now considered the "the lost continent". The official didn't seem to understand that a big reason for California's shift to the political left is decades of mass immigration of natural constituents for big government.

Much of Madrid's talk was focused on warning conservatives to not support rhetoric of the type embraced by Donald Trump and "nativists". He never got into specifics of exactly what type of rhetoric he considered acceptable, but discussing whether he'd use the legally correct term "illegal aliens" he said, "I will not — they are undocumented." Pro-amnesty Republican politicians from California speak about immigration in this way all the time, apparently having taken advice from consultants like Madrid

The message seemed to be that if conservatives tip-toe around the lawlessness committed by illegal aliens and do not support enforcing our nation's laws, Latino voters will eventually embrace the GOP. This argument was not made persuasively. The presentation included a handful of carefully selected demographic anecdotes that were meant to suggest that Latino voters are natural conservatives. For example, it was noted that Latinos are religious and that they are joining the military at a faster rate than other groups.

But these factoids are largely irrelevant in analyzing the Latino vote and all sorts of important research was missing from the presentation. If CPAC had allowed an expert to provide a counterpoint, perhaps the discussion would have been more informative. To his credit, Mr. Madrid did take a lot of questions throughout his talk, which provided for some interesting back-and-forth.

One great source of data on immigrant views is contained in an Eagle Forum report titled "How Mass (Legal) Immigration Dooms A Conservative Republican Party". It could have been a very interesting event had someone from Eagle Forum been invited to debate the Latino vote with Mr. Madrid.

Since he used Pew Hispanic Center data in his presentation, I asked Madrid about a Pew finding contained in the Eagle Forum report. Pew found that while only 41 percent of the general public supports a larger government offering more services, a whopping 81 percent of Hispanic immigrants support more government. Even by the third generation (the grandchildren of immigrants), 58 percent of Hispanics support more government while only 36 percent want less. I asked Madrid whether he agreed that this suggested the GOP's message of limited government simply wasn't all that appealing to Hispanics. He hadn't heard the finding before and argued that the GOP simply needs to appeal to the group in other ways. He also noted that over generations, Latinos will eventually become more conservative.

While it is true that assimilation is the key to immigrants becoming more successful and eventually becoming conservatives, there was little discussion about how we might encourage assimilation. Less immigration would be helpful and I asked Madrid about immigration levels after the event. He was open to lower levels of immigration to encourage assimilation, but didn't have an answer as to why politicians aren't calling for it. (Hint: Much of the GOP is bought and controlled by cheap labor-seeking special interests.)

Madrid noted that there are 677,431 registered Latino Republicans in California and argued that this is wonderful because it's a number greater than in some other states. The audience quickly realized that this comparison is irrelevant and that the real issue is how that number compares to the number of Latinos in California registered as Democrats. Madrid responded to an audience question by saying there are four Democrats to every one Republican voter. Boom goes the dynamite. This is the most important fact, and while I applaud Madrid's honesty, I'm troubled that it wasn't in the presentation.

If four out of five Latinos are registering with the Democrats, perhaps less immigration would be in the interest of the Republican Party, no? And it's not just Latino immigration that is creating more constituents for the party of big government (see the Eagle Forum report linked above).

But Madrid's argument, the standard GOP consultant perspective, was that the GOP could win over these voters if they just stopped with the rhetoric that is turning off Latino voters (which is usually defined as any support for immigration enforcement). The example that Madrid kept turning to was California's Proposition 187, passed by voters in 1994. He argued that it was politicians' support for this ballot initiative by Gov. Pete Wilson that led Latinos to become Democrats. This is a tiresome argument promoted by advocates of high immigration and it's just not persuasive. Are immigrants arriving today in support of larger government because of a never-enforced ballot initiative in one state over two decades ago? I think not.

This type of argument is used by high-immigration enthusiasts to scare GOP politicians into avoiding any support for state-level, immigration-enforcement-oriented legislation. But Madrid counters that Texas has similar demographics and it is not a Democrat stronghold like California. Madrid's argument was a little difficult to follow, but it seems that he believes Texas is conservative (and he argues it will remain so for decades to come) because it never passed a ballot initiative similar to Proposition 187. Madrid's entire argument, then, hinges on Texas staying red. Many demographers believe Texas will turn blue if we continue our high rate of immigration. If that happens, Madrid's argument falls apart. But by then, it will be too late for conservatives. A conservative president will not make it into the White House, particularly not one with pro-immigration-enforcement position.

Madrid noted that in 2014, Latinos surpassed non-Hispanic whites as largest ethnic group in California. He predicts that four other states will soon go the same way. He also agrees with the concept of "demographics as destiny". Madrid feels that because there's a real choice on immigration between Trump and Rubio (who he later said had the best message on immigration): "2016 is the tipping point that will determine the success or failure of the conservative movement for decades to come".

I'd agree with the sentiment but not the prescription. If the GOP continues to be the pro-amnesty, high-immigration party that Rubio and many GOP consultants want it to be, conservatism's days are numbered.



Topics: Politics