Never Trust Mainstream Pundits Bearing Gifts

By Stephen Steinlight on April 2, 2012

That just about every pundit for a "newspapers of record" — not to mention virtually all commentators in other mainstream media — are flacks for the Obama administration and uncritical devotees of open-borders immigration and amnesty is among the worst-kept political secrets in America. Throughout the Obama presidency, the chattering class has remained fiercely supportive of both, though its primary allegiance appears to have swung from the man to the issue. Because Obama is increasingly perceived as having failed to embrace the open-borders ideology, the fourth estate has intensified its efforts to compensate.

Capable, at best, of a poor simulacrum of "objectivity" or balanced journalism, these transparent Machiavellists write so many articles purporting to be sage advice to Republicans on the Hispanic vote and immigration policy they form a new journalistic genre. These pieces have one purpose: to lead Republicans to political slaughter through mendacious analysis. The pieces are so ubiquitous it is virtually impossible to read mainstream political coverage of the primaries or Obama's early campaigning for more than a day or two without encountering yet another proffering suicidal advice.

The incessant drumbeat reflects the deep, well-founded fear that immigration policy is a potentially lethal issue for the Democrats in 2012 and arguably key to the Republicans defeating Obama, holding the House, and regaining the Senate. The issue has enormous salience. That's been the case for years. It was among the top three issues cited in a great many surveys in 2008 before the onset of the Great Recession trumped every other. A recent Gallop poll ("Economy Most Toxic of 24 Issues: Scope of Government and U.S. Morality also Rankle Americans") suspiciously fails to place it among the three top issues on voters' minds despite the fact that the poll finds it well within the mathematical margin of error of those it did.

The issue is also viewed with heightened concern by the chattering classes given its capacity to arouse and inflame the electorate and thus lessen if not altogether erase a political advantage on which the Democrats have been banking: the current deficit in enthusiasm for the likely Republican nominee. Though that will certainly change in any event once the primaries end and the focus returns to ousting a president detested by Republicans. If Romney is perceived by many in the most conservative part of the party's base as too milquetoast and moderate, what would help him more than embracing a third-rail issue that elicits such visceral fury? Needless to say, playing the "racism" card is the media's standard response to popular anger against illegal and massive immigration during a period of high unemployment. This will surely increase as the issue's persuasive power becomes even more evident.

But the media's attacks are incapable of reflecting an essential truth: Solid survey data show Romney's views on immigration to be perfectly in synch with the overwhelming majority of Americans, as is his solution: "self-deportation", a.k.a. "attrition through enforcement" (see CIS survey, "Religious Leaders vs. Members: An Examination of Contrasting Views on Immigration".

If Romney's conversion experiences on some issues (a.k.a. "flip-flopping") may seem somewhat inauthentic — he is hardly alone in political repositioning — his embrace of the toughest and smartest immigration policy of any Republican candidate appears sincere. Though Santorum shares Romney's views, more than any of his competitors Romney seems to recognize the political power of the issue and has made it a centerpiece of his campaign. He has pressed the issue even in places with high Hispanic populations like Florida, Arizona, and Puerto Rico and won them handily, including with lopsided majorities of the Hispanic vote, and has surrounded himself with some of the most credible tough voices in the nation addressing the issue.

Recent classic examples are The Washington Post's "Has Mitt Romney put Arizona in play for 2012?" — the quick answer is "no" — and Politico's hubristically titled "How Romney Lost Latinos". Though, like the others, these two pieces are premised on and repeat identical or similar fallacies, we'll deal with them separately.

The Post's Kamen doesn't help his credibility with the paper-thin smattering of survey data he offers regarding the Hispanic vote — easily rebutted by other data. But that is hardly the principal weakness in this prototypical piece. In his partisan tunnel vision he avoids the real story: What does the great majority of non-Hispanic Americans think about the issue? Simply ignoring this 85 percent of the population makes it an exercise in question-begging, evasion, and self-delusion, rendering it politically worthless.

Like the rest, its shaky case is built on a fantastically counter-intuitive proposition that a minority community with a history of low voter turnout and in which a majority (though by no means the totality) holds a position on immigration policy fundamentally at odds with the great majority of Americans is somehow in the political driver's seat.

Oddly, locating point of view in that community and not the larger polity, Kamen attacks Romney for purported political recklessness in addressing illegal immigration and for being ham-handed in his dealings with the Hispanic community. He excoriates Romney for allegedly employing hostile rhetoric about Hispanics (but provides no illustrations) and for Romney's opposition to the Dream Act.

Let us recall the Dream Act evidently had so little support from a wary White House — which effectively killed it by holding it hostage to a sweeping "comprehensive immigration reform bill" Obama and his advisors knew they couldn't get — that it was the only significant piece of legislation the Democrats pretended to want that didn't pass in the endless lame-duck session that concluded the 111th Congress. Rather than use the bill to make a case against Romney, Kamen and company could score a point with their own constituency by pointing out the failure to pass the Dream Act as yet another reason for questioning the authenticity of Obama's unequivocal commitment to the left-wing, post-American agenda.

But the centerpiece of Kamen's "advice" to Romney is to re-consider the damage he's inflicting on his candidacy by having sought and received strong support from some of the most prominent figures in the movement to curb illegal immigration and strengthen America's borders. It should be noted that Kamen assumes, with no proof or cogent case, that the danger is mortal. It all comes down to alienating a set of Hispanic leaders and voters in what were swing states in 2008 and, presumably, Kamen's fellow liberal journalist friends.

In an election in which immigration may finally emerge as a central issue, the notion that the outcome will depend on small percentages of Hispanics is swing states is highly doubtful, if not absurd on its face, given the views of the vast majority of Americans. Since the issue sharply divides non-Hispanics from most Hispanics, and since the former outnumbers the latter everywhere, opposing illegal immigration is a winner even in the most Hispanic of states. Advocating "self-deportation" likely would mean Romney would carry New Mexico whose governor, Susan Martinez (since November 2011), is a Republican Hispanic border hawk, despite New Mexico having the highest percentage of Hispanics anywhere in the United States.

Kamen's putative "rogue's gallery" of prominent Romney supporters who are nationally recognized immigration hawks include Pete Wilson, honorary Chair of Romney's California campaign and former governor of California; Governor Janice K. Brewer of Arizona, who has most publicly thrown down the gauntlet to Obama over immigration policies; and Kris W. Kobach, currently Secretary of State of Kansas and counsel with the Immigration Law Reform Institute in Washington and former counsel to Attorney General Ashcroft. Kobach is most famous for being the principal author of Arizona's SB1070, a law passed to permit the state to enforce immigration law given the refusal of the federal government to fulfill its obligations. Its constitutionality will be judged by the Supreme Court in its current session. Several states have already adopted similar legislation, also being contested by the Department of Justice, and if SB1070 is found constitutional it is likely that many state legislatures will draft similar laws, radically altering the face of immigration law enforcement across America.

That Romney is harming his candidacy by surrounding himself with the leaders of a movement that advances a cause supported by the overwhelming majority of Americans is risible. The members of this group, whom the open-borders media has chosen to present as demagogic or bigoted, have, in fact, enjoyed popular support and have been proven all-too-prescient regarding the tsunami of low-skill immigration. A perfect example is former Gov. Pete Wilson of California.

Wilson is best remembered as a leading supporter of the 1994 anti-illegal immigration ballot initiative Prop 187 or SOS (Save Our State). The purpose of the initiative, the first by any state seeking to control immigration — anticipating Arizona's SB1070 by 16 years — was to prohibit illegal aliens from accessing public education and health care, among other social services. Vilified then by left-liberal mainstream media, "compassionate" post-American leftist clergy, the foundation elite, etc., as xenophobic, the voters showed their usual common sense and passed Prop 187 by a wide margin: 59 percent in favor and 41 percent opposed.

Setting a pattern to be repeated in the case of Arizona's SB1070, the courts intervened at once. Only three days after Prop 187 passed, a temporary restraining order was issued by a federal judge. Several months later Judge Mariana Pfaelzer issued a permanent injunction against virtually all other provisions of the bill, ruling it had pre-empted the federal government's "exclusive jurisdiction" over immigration policy. Wilson appealed the case to the Ninth Circuit, the most liberal circuit in the federal judiciary, and the appeal predictably failed. When Gray Davis succeeded Wilson he ceased further appeals in 1999, ending the initiative. Though historical hindsight is 20/20, it is certainly arguable that Prop 187 might well have eliminated the magnets that drew massive illegal immigration to California in the ensuring years and might have prevented the financial meltdown of the state, the huge widening of income disparity, the expansion and implosion of its social safety net, the collapse of its public education system, and the out-migration of many of the state's best-trained workers and professionals.

The bottom line is that Wilson's tough line on immigration was overwhelmingly popular and prescient in recognizing what would happen to California if the magnets for massive illegal immigration were not addressed. Republicans should also bear in mind that what appears to be the effective permanent loss of California to the Democrats was a byproduct of the massive immigration, legal and illegal, which the bill sought to reduce.

In "How Romney Lost Latinos", Politico's Glen Thrush is more forthcoming about Obama's problems with Hispanics caused by his deportation policies, suggesting it offered the GOP a real shot at that demographic. But he hastily adds that Romney's tough rhetoric and embrace of "attrition through enforcement" has already thrown it away, virtually guaranteeing Obama the 67 percent level of Hispanic support he won in 2008. But bits and pieces of honest reporting manage to make a mockery of its cocksure title.

Thrush's most pronounced analytical failing is identical to Kamen's: concentrating solely on the Hispanic vote, ignoring the fact that the great majority of Americans are non-Hispanic and overwhelmingly support "self-deportation". He seems to forget that the impressive-seeming 67 percent Hispanic support Obama received in 2008 happened in what was a political vacuum. It was not counter-balanced by a much larger group opposed to "comprehensive immigration reform" in that election because immigration never emerged as an issue. That 67 percent — assuming Obama's deportation record and the terrible economy do not cause what is likely to be a sharp drop in support — would still mean little in a campaign in which immigration policy is a key issue that divides the electorate along cultural lines. Thrush calls this "Kobach's polarizing philosophy". That rhetoric is meant to be disparaging, but it fails to consider whether the strategy is on-target or not. If it "polarizes" and places a huge majority on one side and a relative minority on the other, why isn't that an astute move? Indeed, one of the problems of these pieces is that their "moral vision" and political judgment are often in unacknowledged conflict.

Another key problem in "How Romney Lost Latinos" is Thrush's near total avoidance of opposing viewpoints, suggesting he's afraid to introduce them for fear they will sink him. He provides plenty of quotes from Hispanic Republican politicians who disagree with "attrition through enforcement". That some are Romney supporters makes little difference, and the establishment Republicans who have an immediate interest in or a long history of having catastrophic premonitions about the loss of Hispanic support, among them Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.), Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), merely echoes the same concerns. According to Thrush, "Republican top brass have made it known to Romney's campaign that the party risks losing Hispanic voters by an historic margin". But while Thrush states the concern, he fails to subject it to any analysis.

Doggedly faithful to the rules of the genre, Thrush also fails to point out this third-rail issue could impel a vastly larger group of non-Hispanics to vote, and to vote Republican. As noted, the Romney campaign has no doubt about its salience. All that is required to capitalize on it is the political will and fortitude, strengthened by survey evidence, to resist the panic of the weak-kneed and the siren songs of the liberal-left pundits who wish to lure the Republicans onto the rocks.

Significant discordant facts manage to find their way into Thrush's piece but he seems blithely unaware of the damage they do to his case. He acknowledges, for example, that immigration is not a top issue for Hispanics. Yet he seems utterly unaware that this astounding admission throws his entire thesis into doubt. He quotes Jose Fuentes, co-chair of the Hispanic steering committee of the Romney campaign, who states:

Hispanic immigration is an important issue, but it's not among the top five issues. The Hispanic voter is more concerned with the economy, small business development, education, health care, just dinner-table issues. Immigration is important, but immigration only becomes important when the language being used is offensive, because now we feel like you are offending our people. And Mitt Romney, I think, has expressed himself very clearly on what he wants and has not been offensive to Hispanics, like others may have been.

Fuentes notes it's not among the "top five". That it is even an "important issue" for a great many Hispanics is an open question. Other evidence suggests it is nowhere near a top priority. In a poll by the Pew Hispanic Center released on January 23, "Public Priorities: Deficit Rising, Terrorism Slipping: Tough Stance on Iran Endorsed," Hispanic respondents placed immigration 16th.

While Thrush at least recognizes Obama's problems with Hispanics, why he imagines these will not cause the 67 percent support of 2008 to slip by so much as a point remains a mystery. A founder of the Café Con Leche Republicans, Bob Quasias, states that "Sixty percent of Latinos are either moderate or conservative" and they are "turned off" by Obama's liberal social policies. Telemundo's Jose Diaz-Balart stated on MSNBC, and is quoted in the piece as saying, "Obama promised the Latino community … if he were elected president, within the first year he would bring forth immigration reform. Where is the immigration reform proposal?"

Given the disappointment with Obama and the greatly diminished salience of immigration to Hispanics according to highly credible polling — employment, heath care, education, the national debt, and the mortgage crisis all carry far greater weight — what does the piece suggest Romney might do to capitalize on enormous Hispanic disappointment with Obama?

The best advice Thrush has to offer — it is attributed not only to Mr. Quasias but also to that well-known friend of the Republican Party, Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas), Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus — is for Romney to distance himself from Kris Kobach and his support for "self-deportation". This is it? This is the magic bullet?

Though Thrush would have us believe that Kris Kobach is an enemy to Hispanics, and his name a household word, the idea strains credibility in a society where so few people know much about any issue in detail, let alone the legal minds behind legislation. So far as the advice to back off "attrition through enforcement", Romney is far too smart to swallow the poison being labeled as a life-saving medication. If he sticks to his guns on immigration he may find the issue will prove decisive to victory in the presidential race.