National Review Online, October 23, 2015
Elevating Paul Ryan to the House speakership, where he will be one of the main public faces of the Republican party, suggests that the party's poobahs and panjandrums still haven't learned their lesson. Ryan as chairman of Ways and Means worked. Ryan as the de facto leader of the GOP does not, for three reasons:
GOP to its own voters: Drop dead. Eric Cantor lost his primary last year because he was out of step with Republican voters on immigration. Speaker-designate Kevin McCarthy was forced to pass on the big chair because he was out of step with Republican voters on immigration. Even Speaker Boehner's fall was partly due to his being out of step with Republican voters on immigration.
So whom do elected Republicans pass the mantle of leadership to? Someone who is more out of step with Republican voters on immigration than any of these men. Neither Cantor nor McCarthy nor Boehner are ideologically committed to unlimited immigration; for them, immigration is a political and financial issue, to be managed and gamed. Ryan, on the other hand, is a true believer, a Kempite supporter of the free movement of people into the United States.
Don't Republican voters deserve a leader who actually, you know, agrees with their views on one of their most salient issues? Pew reports that only 7 percent of Republicans agree with Ryan that the United States should increase immigration beyond the 1 million green cards we give out each year (plus another 700,000 "temporary" workers).
And Ryan doesn't just hold these views in the abstract; he's the most active and committed supporter of amnesty and increased immigration who is anywhere near leadership. As a recent Frontline documentary showed, Ryan was instrumental in almost getting an amnesty/immigration-surge bill passed last year. In fact, I didn't appreciate how close Ryan came to passing a version of the Schumer-Rubio Gang of Eight bill through the House in 2014. The filmmakers, who followed Representative Luis Gutiérrez (D., Ill.) and others for all of last year, reported that Dave Brat's defeat of Cantor, coming at the same time as the illegal-alien surge across the border in South Texas, killed a deal that was already done, with the needed Republican votes already pledged. As the narrator said, "That pretty much finished off chances for an immigration bill. And only a couple of dozen people knew how close it had come."
At the time, only a couple of dozen people knew how close Ryan had come to passing immediate amnesty for all illegals and huge increases in future immigration. What's our excuse now?
GOP to working people: Drop dead. But it's not just Republican voters that GOP officialdom has alienated. The party and its candidates have failed to offer much that might appeal to working people rather than entrepreneurs, to wage earners rather than just wage payers. Too much populism is toxic, of course, but so is too little.
Senator Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) has become a national figure for taking the lead in calling for "a humble and honest populism — not the cheap demagoguery of political operatives, but a sincere devotion to the legitimate needs and desires of the American people." Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat have famously written of the need for the GOP to become the party of Sam's Club, not just the country club. Fred Bauer has made the case for an enlightened Republican populism. John Fonte has written about rebranding the GOP from the party of big business to the party of the little guy.
Unfortunately, a Speaker Ryan represents a detour from this essential rebranding. What are the issues he cares about and talks about the most? Tax cuts, trade-promotion authority, entitlement reform. This makes sense in a chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and they're important issues. But what are ordinary people without estates to be taxed, without corporate profits parked overseas, without factories in Malaysia, supposed to get from this? As Matt Continetti has written regarding Ryan's distance from reform conservatism, "Jack Kemp and Edward Conard have more influence over Paul Ryan and his budget, which has served as the de facto governing document of the GOP since 2010, than do Mike Lee and Ross Douthat."
Yes, Ryan shoots deer and makes sausage out of them, but identity politics is no substitute for good policy.
GOP to a conservative future: Drop dead. Ryan is clearly a man of principle, a committed libertarian conservative. But his preferred immigration policies doom conservatism, of the "reform" or any other variety. And the Republican base increasingly understands this.
The federal immigration program currently admits about 1 million people from abroad each year who are big-government liberals by a ratio of roughly two to one. Immigrants are disproportionately supportive of activist government, higher taxes, Obamacare, gun control, affirmative action, and environmental regulation, and not notably conservative on social issues. Increased immigration leads to a steady shift in votes to the Democrats, even in Texas. And a Republican candidate's views on immigration have no effect on this trend.
Over the next 20 years, current immigration policy will add about 15 million potential new voters. The Gang of Eight bill, a version of which Ryan came within days of passing in the House last year, would have more than doubled that to 32 million potential new voters.
The libertarian-corporate perspective on immigration, of which Ryan is the leading standard-bearer in the House, is a menace to the prospects for small-government, traditionalist conservatism.
Ryan has pledged not to revive his push for amnesty and immigration-surge legislation while Obama is president. This is cold comfort, for two reasons. First, there's no chance such a bill could pass in the next year even if Luis Gutiérrez were speaker; it's an empty promise.
Second, what about after Obama leaves? As Fred Bauer pointed out at National Review, the real action will come in 2017. If Ryan returns as speaker in the 115th Congress, it is a certainty that he will craft yet another iteration of the McCain-Kennedy/Schumer-Rubio approach to immigration. And he'll have an ally in the Senate majority leader, whether Schumer or McConnell, and in the White House, if either Hillary or Rubio are elected.
Ryan's election as speaker would be a victory for the Republican donor class in its relentless struggle against Republican voters. As Limbaugh said yesterday, "Paul Ryan is the new Cantor, in my theory, in terms of moving the donor agenda." But they've won a battle, not the war.
National Review Online, October 23, 2015