Panel Transcript: Can Conservatism Survive Mass Immigration?

By Mark Krikorian, James G. Gimpel, Ramesh Ponnuru, and David Frum on September 5, 2010

Related Publications: Backgrounder, Video

Mark Krikorian,
Executive Director, Center for Immigration Studies
James G. Gimpel,
Professor of Government, University of Maryland, College Park
Ramesh Ponnuru,
Senior Editor, National Review Magazine
David Frum,
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
National Press Club
Washington, DC
Transcript by
Federal News Service
Washington, D.C.

MARK KRIKORIAN: (Off mike.) And much of the debate over immigration policy – really everywhere, but among Republicans in particular – has been premised on this idea that only by embracing a policy of evermore expansive immigration can the Republican Party or conservatism more generally remain electorally viable.

Now, there’s some debate whether that’s a sound argument, given the fact that Democrats have been giving Republicans the same advice; essentially, how to beat them. So you probably ought to take it with a grain of salt. And yet, I think there is a substantive issue we need to grapple with.

Now, the Center for Immigration Studies isn’t a partisan organization. We’ve got lots of Republicans who really hate our guts as much as the Democrats do. But the central place of this question of the immigrant vote, of the Hispanic vote, which overlaps – it’s not the same thing, but it’s related – in immigration policy debates, I mean, this really is an issue worth some in-depth discussion.

And I think the central question is, can conservatism in the American sense of the words – small government, social traditionalism and military strength – and the Republican Party as the vehicle, however flawed for such views – can conservatism survive the continued and uninterrupted flow of large numbers of future immigrants; survive as a politically viable force?

Those on the left clearly answer no, and consistently back up that view with their policy preferences. I mean, the left is almost monolithic in its support for continued mass immigration and often for explicit political reasons. And before we get to some of our speakers, let me read you a couple of choice nuggets.

Eliseo Medina, the vice president of the SEIU and honorary chairman of the Democratic Socialists of America, said quite explicitly that immigration was the key to progressive victories in the party. “They will solidify and expand the progressive coalition in the future. We reform the immigration laws, it puts 12 million people on the path to citizenship and eventually voters.” And he went on and on in this vein.

Barney Frank, earlier, again was frank about this, where he saw obviously that immigration is “bad for blue-collars,” but that immigration will then help elect Democratic majorities and strengthen unions and be able to effect – supposedly negate the negative effect of immigration on blue-collar workers. In other words, the premise – the basic idea there is that immigration will in fact solidify the left in the future.

And finally, I wanted to read a couple of quotes from Ruy Teixeira, who sends his regrets. He was going to come and then had to back out because of a conflict. But in the report he wrote a couple months ago for the Center for American Progress, entitled, “Demographic Change and the Future of Parties,” he was quite frank, I think, in the effects that mass immigration has for the left. Said basically that increasing the percentage of specifically Hispanics, he focused on – increasing the percentage of Hispanics in the electorate is good for the left. “They are as strong or stronger in their support for active government, the safety net and generous government service provisions.”

He said, in contradiction to this idea that immigration is sort of a Vitamin B shot for traditional values, something Frank Fukuyama and others have repeatedly talked about; that Hispanics overall are not nearly as socially as conservative as many believe. And this is repeatedly borne out by actual research as opposed to anecdote. And that the bottom line is – he says, “The Republican Party must quite simply become less conservative,” if it’s going to survive.

And that’s really, I think, the question that we’re going to discuss, is not so much – and maybe we will or won’t; there may be some disagreement – but not so much whether the Republican Party will survive because I don’t think there’s much doubt about that. But the question is, will conservatism survive in the modern American sense and the Republican Party as a vehicle for that.

So let me move to our three speakers, who are eminently qualified to talk about this. The first is Jim Gimpel, who wrote the paper we have out there on this issue and has written repeatedly on this issue of immigration and its effect on political electoral outcomes. He’s a professor at the University of Maryland-College Park.

Then David Frum will speak, the editor of FrumForum and author of “Comeback,” a book on how conservatism can win again. I think that was the subhead.

And finally, Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor at National Review, who has likewise written and spoken extensively on this.

So Jim?

JAMES G. GIMPEL: Okay. Thanks, Mark. Is this on? Are we working? Okay. Good.

I think probably some people are out there wondering how on earth I could be writing about the demise of Republican political prospects in a year like this. After all, don’t I read the newspaper? Didn’t I see the latest Gallup poll? Where did Mark Krikorian find this guy? Must’ve found him locked away deep in some ivory tower somewhere; way out of touch. Even the teachers’ union members are going to be voting Republican this year, right? Seems that way.

I know every week we see a new ominous indicator that suggests that the Republicans are going to conquer the world, right? Well, part of the point that I’ve been making down through the years in a number of papers that I’ve written that are also on the CIS website if you want to take a look, is that we don’t want to be fooled by unusually, really lopsided elections where either one side fails to turn out because they’re discouraged – the enthusiasm gap – or maybe lots of one-side voter blocs flee to the other side because their candidate is so terrible.

Neither of those things portend anything permanent. Party identification is more like identity than it is like opinion. If you imagine a continuum, opinion is one side. You know, one morning I wake up, have a hankering for strawberry; another morning I wake up and I have a hankering for chocolate, okay? That’s more like – that’s opinion, okay? It flip-flops back and forth. Identity is more like your ethnicity or maybe your religion. That doesn’t change, okay? And party ID, okay, is more like religion and ethnicity. I didn’t it was religion or ethnicity. It’s more toward this end of the continuum then it is toward this end of the continuum; whereas opinion goes back and forth.

Of course, part of the reason why party identity is stable is because people don’t revisit it that often. Elections are pretty episodic things. And so there might be an unusual election where you might temporarily set it aside, but you tend to return again and again to your basic party identification. And that’s why the best guide to results this year is what happened the last time; and the best guide to last time is what happened the time before, and elections results are very, very predictable over time.

If present forecasts are right for this time, it is true that Hispanic percentages for Republicans might increase this fall above the customary 30 to 35 percent that the GOP can usually count on. But that’s probably because lots of Hispanic Democrats will fail to show up. That’s different that converting them to the GOP side. Getting a little higher percentage because lots of Latino Democrats fail to show up because they aren’t enthusiastic this year is totally different than converting Latinos to the Republican side.

Now, there might be a few places where Hispanic percentages will rise because of very, very poor Democratic nominees. We can see this happen sometimes when the Democrats nominate, again, a particularly pathetic gaffe-prone candidate. But once again, this is not sign of permanent conversion.

I would say that, with respect to the present paper, over the long term the numbers have not been looking very good for the Republicans. The new immigrants, and primarily Latino immigrants, tend to settle in these one party-dominant large cities and Republicans don’t have much of a presence in these locations. So the politics that these folks tend to learn is the politics of the Democratic Party, naturally. And upon naturalization, Democratic Party identification and voting naturally comes pretty easy. Table one in the paper, you might take a look at. It’s very easy to follow. The immigrant non-citizens are even more Democratic in identification than the immigrant citizens.

Over a generation, the size of these immigrant flows into states and regions really has changed their political complexion, and of course, then the electoral college map. Obviously, California is the clearest case of where the immigrant population has changed once a reliably Republican state to a now reliably Democratic state. Florida, interestingly, is the next most obvious case; now very much a swing state, formerly a Republican state.

New York is a bit more complicated because other forces have been at work there. But it is very notable that it wasn’t that long ago that New York City itself had some Republicans locally in its state legislative delegation. There are probably some people a little older than I am that can remember this well; that even in the New York City boroughs there were Republicans both represented in the city council and in the state legislature.

Texas is certainly changing. Of course, Dallas County went from Obama this last time. That was new. But certainly also Fort Worth, Houston, the other large cities are tilting heavily Democrat, and not just the Rio Grande Valley, which has been heavily Democratic for quite a while. And of course, other smaller states, Colorado being among them.

Now, I don’t think anyone would argue – as I point out in the paper – that the only thing happening in these states over the last 30 years is immigration. No one’s going to say that. No one’s saying it’s a monocausal explanation for party change. But it is a significant force, exercising both a direct and an indirect impact. Notably, one of the most important indirect impacts is rising income inequality, and Ruy Teixeira has made an important point about that. With mass immigration, most of it coming in in the lower income bracket, you really do have a lot of income inequality being introduced that wasn’t there before.

So I’ll wind up my comments there and pass it on to Dave and Ramesh and look forward to any discussion and questions.


DAVID FRUM: Thank you. I’m very glad to take part in this important discussion.

Let me say at the beginning that party considerations and even ideological considerations must of course, yield to national considerations. If we could show that the current immigration policy of the United States was enriching the country, strengthening it, making it greater and stronger, better, then the fact that it meant ill for one political party or one set of political ideas would of course be an unimportant point.

So everything I am about to say is predicated on my premise that those things are not – that we are free to think about the effect on our own ideas, our own political party precisely because I think the evidence is strong that the benefits of immigration – present immigration policy to the United States as compared to the past are not very great and are, indeed, negative.

I want to focus – when we think about the political effects of immigration, the most obvious thing to do is to look at the newcomers and how they vote and see how they change the party balance. And I think the evidence is clear, as James pointed out, as Mark has pointed out, as I’m sure Ramesh will point out, that the new migrants are gravitating overwhelmingly to the Democratic Party. The myth of the socially conservative but lower income voter is indeed a myth. That’s just not what’s going to happen and will decreasingly happen in the future.

They are not to be blamed for this voting behavior. It is completely rational. The Democratic Party makes a much better offer to people who earn significantly less than the median income than the Republican Party does. So it would be irrational for them – these newcomers who are earning below the median to refuse that offer. And since the evidence is accumulating that the second and third generations of at least Latino migrants are also going to be earning below the median or not as well as other groups, those children and grandchildren will likewise vote in a rational way, the party that is often the better deal.

I want to focus on the other half of the equation – on the effects of mass migration on the voting behavior of the prior majority.

If we look back at the series of elections from middle 1990s onward, we see the Republican Party has been making great strides among high school graduate – I should say non-college white voters, and piling up bigger and bigger majorities in this group; as much as two-thirds the vote in some recent elections in this group. And it has been on the votes of this group that Republican success, when it has come, has come in the years since the middle 1990s.

Why are these people voting Republican, especially at the same time as better educated white voters have been leaving the Republican Party and moving into the Democratic Party? One of the effects of demographic change is to deliver both an economic and a cultural shock to the prior population; that – the effect of a particular kind of immigration that the United States has been running. And it’s not the only kind you can run. But the effect of the particular kind has been to concentrate benefits on those who earn more and to concentrate the costs on those who earn less.

So the less educated, less affluent part of the prior majority population feels itself under increasing economic strain, and also, feeling the impact of cultural change. They have rallied in a bloc against the changing of the world. And I don’t know how many of the voters would think of this, rationalize this, in terms of any particular change. But we have seen Republicans gaining greater and greater strength among this group and becoming more and more identified with the votes of non-college American whites.

This is a very strange thing for the party of enterprise to do. You have the party of enterprise, the party of business, the party of technology, resting on the votes of people who have not done as well out of enterprise, not done as well out of business as others; while those who have done best out of enterprise and business are abandoning the party of enterprise and business.

So we create – we arrive at the Republican Party we have seen over the first two years of the Obama administration: a party that speaks about freedom, that speaks about enterprise, that speaks about the Constitution, while at the same time denouncing any change in any portion of the Medicare program as tantamount to a program of mass murder. That is a very strange paradox – death panels – that is a very strange paradox.

But it makes sense when you look at who is voting for the Republican Party and why; that we have a driving effect where the cultural and economic changes in the country are pushing into the Republican Party the poorer elements of the prior majority, driving out the richer elements of the prior elements and creating a huge gap between the social base of the Republican Party and the Republican Party’s professed ideology. That is going to create a tremendous shock for the Republicans in government.

And I think we have seen again and again in the years since the middle 1990s that when those two things – professed ideology and the social base of the party – come into conflict, it is the social base that tends to win. That, I think, is the real message of the summer of the town halls.

This effect on the prior majority is emphasized by something that James just said, which is the nature of the change that mass immigration – and a particular kind of mass immigration that the United States has been running – on the whole structure of the economy. Now, I want to point out – I want to emphasize this point. You can have other kinds of immigration policy.

In Canada, my native land, immigration policy has favored highly educated immigrants. The effect of this has been to make immigration a force for greater social equality and greater social cohesion. Canada takes in almost twice as many migrants in proportion to its population than the United States does, and it is a relatively uncontroversial proposition. And the reason for that is that these newcomers tend to be in industries, have levels of education where the effect is to drive down the wages of the professionals and increase the purchasing power of the non-professional part of the population. If you ever walk into a Canadian hospital, this just becomes obvious to the eye.

That’s one – the particular immigration policy that Canada’s been running is one of the reasons that Canada’s able to buy not much worse medicine that the United States for a lot less money. It just pays everybody less who is a provider and immigration’s a big part of why Canada’s able to pay everybody less. The American immigration policy creates this – intensifies this drive to inequality, and indeed, extreme inequality that we have seen in the country over the past quarter-century.

And this, then, leads me to my last thought on this, and the one that I think should most worry those of us committed to a politics of limited government, enterprise, personal freedom. The ideology – conservatism itself may be less relevant and useful to the kind of country that the United States is becoming.

If indeed you do have a concentration of enormous wealth and power in very few units; if indeed you have a faltering of upward mobility – and the old bargain that America offered its citizens – okay, we’ll offer you a weaker safety net because the real safety net here is opportunity – if that opportunity is dwindling compared to the American past or compared to other countries who run different kinds of migration policies, then the question is, is conservatism any more even a relevant or valid message for the society?

Maybe the society that looks like the America of 1910 needs the politics of 1910; needs a more redistributionist politics; needs a politics more focused on cramping the power of a very tiny majority (sic) – a very tiny minority, a very tiny and influential people. If conservatism arose in certain circumstances in the United States – conservatism as we know it arose during the period of the 1950s and 1960s and gained majority status in the 1970s and 1980s to deal with those problems – if that country isn’t there anymore, then we have to ask, are these sets of ideas still relevant?

Instead, because the conservatism that we see now is a conservatism that is increasingly unprogrammatic, increasingly about cultural identification, exactly the kind of conservatism that you would get from a beleaguered prior majority that doesn’t know which way to turn to solve either its economic woes or to address its problems of cultural identity.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, David. Ramesh?


I agree with most of what’s already been said here. I guess this isn’t one of those panels with fisticuffs. I have to congratulate Mark and the Center for Immigration Studies for their sort of – I guess it’s a counter cyclical intellectual policy. As Jim Gimpel suggested, not many people right now are thinking right now about the demise of Republican political prospects, as the presser subtitle calls it. But they ought to be.

I agree also that both the economy and the normal patterns of a midterm are disguising serious problems for the Republican Party. The problem of the way demographic change is affecting the party’s prospects is, I think, not the most important problem that Republicans have in 2012, which is about as far ahead as political strategists are looking. Actually, it’s further than a lot of them are looking. But it may be the most important problem in the long run.

I think it should be obvious that immigration, or at least the kind of immigration and the level of immigration that we have, helps the Democrats; and Professor Gimpel does a nice job of quantifying that effect and of suggesting some of the mechanisms by which it happens. One thing that strikes me about what he’s saying is that it does shed some light on the currently prevailing line among Republicans on the immigration question, which I think most of its adherents would describe as being pro-legal immigration and anti-illegal immigration.

And these numbers I think suggest that whatever the merits of that policy, it is a politically self-defeating position because it amounts to enthusiastically supporting the influx of new Democratic voters while also pledging to harass their friends, relatives and neighbors.

One qualification that I don’t think that probably anybody here would necessarily dispute is that a pause in immigration, such as the pause that we had in 1925 to ‘65, could change these patterns, as in fact happened with the previous immigrant wave. You had assimilation that I think proceeded faster because there wasn’t this constant new influx of people doing things like suppressing wages at the low end, for example. And this eventually had effects on voting behavior. You saw the realignment of some of these groups.

The questions I would have about the paper is what follows from this analysis? As David has suggested, the partisan impact of a policy of immigration is not by itself, I think, a legitimate reason to change it. But I do think that sort of the reasons that this mass immigration have hurt the Republican – has hurt the Republicans point to trends that are legitimate concerns for public policy, such as the rise in inequality, the decline in cultural cohesion, the reduction in economic self-reliance. And those are the reasons, I think, that the immigration’s changing American politics, and there are reasons for concern. Even a Democrat concerned about the national interest and happy about the partisan effects of this policy ought to be concerned about those things.

But I think the bigger question is, assuming that Republicans agreed that it was in their interest to have less immigration, how would they achieve that? I mean, could Republicans actually reduce or substantially reform our immigration policy if they decided that’s what they wanted? And I’m skeptical. A majority of public opinion usually favors reduced immigration levels, but can this majority be mobilized?

I don’t see much evidence that there’s any intensity there. It strikes me as highly likely that voters who vote on immigration would be more likely to be people who support more immigration, or at least non-reductions, than people who support less. And a serious but unsuccessful effort to reduce immigration would likely make the Republican problem within new immigrants worse.

So it seems to me that sort of – there’s a lot of naïveté to the Republican strategists’ conventional wisdom on how to deal with the problems posed by immigration; that if you move from 35 to 40 percent of this vote, it doesn’t make of for the addition of hundreds of thousands of new voters that you’re still losing. On the other hand, if you accept as a given that you’re not changing those levels, then I think that the strategy makes a lot more sense. And while I, and probably a lot of people in this room, would like to figure out a strategy for changing immigration policy, it’s not obvious, at least at this late date in the transformation of our politics, how you go about doing that.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thanks, Ramesh. Before we go to Q&A, I had a couple of points I wanted to make.

First, it does help to look at what the numbers are we’re talking about. And we have projected – this is the Hispanic population overall, so it’s native-born and foreign-born, but using it as a proxy since the majority of immigration is, in fact, Hispanic – we have about 15 percent of the population Hispanic now. With no immigration and if illegal immigrants went home, that goes to less than 18 percent over 30 years. So there’s an increase, even with absolutely no immigration. But it’s not that great when compared to today’s immigration policy, of high immigration plus letting the illegal immigrants stay. You end of at 25 percent for the population that’s staying in just 30 years.

So the consequences of this – of future immigration policy really are quite significant. In other words, this isn’t, as a lot of people seem – whether Republican or Democrat – seem to assume this is some kind of force of nature, it’s the weather, it’s the tide, there’s nothing you can do about it. In fact, this is a very clear decision on the part of policy makers to permit this to continue.

The one thing I wanted to point to was sort of – accentuate the flip side. I never really thought of the way David put it, where if you have the country of 1910, you may need to have the politics of 1910. And in a sense, a corollary of that is that the immigration pause created modern conservatism in some sense; or at least the conditions where it could flourish. And I think you see that quite clearly, in other words; that immigration transforms a society in ways that makes the arguments of the left and the policy options of the left more attractive to non-immigrant voters. One-third of all the uninsured are immigrants or their young children at home.

And so if you’re not an immigrant, you’re not even thinking about immigration policy. But the politician is saying, look at the magnitude of this uninsured population. If you were kind of on the fence, socialized medicine may well seem like a more sensible or at least necessary policy option precisely because immigration has expanded the magnitude of the problem. And those goes the same with income inequality, with lower wages, but even other things. For instance, in things people don’t think about: diversity reduces social trust in civic engagement. This is pretty clear. Robert Putnam’s research, the “Bowling Alone” guy has been quite explicit on this. And so what happens is government ends up filling the void.

And finally, even something – and this is something people don’t usually think about, especially on the right – is that immigration drives population growth and population density translates into a bigger state. More people in the same space means more rules, more police, more government. And all of those factors are essentially pushing in the direction that the left would like to go, even if it doesn’t have anything to do in the short term with the votes of immigrants or the party preferences of immigrants.

Well, let’s open it up to questions. Somebody has to have provoked somebody here. I mean, really, honestly – okay, Peggy?

Q: Thank you. Okay. I’m Peggy – (inaudible) –

MR. KRIKORIAN: And you’re a Democrat. (Chuckles.)

Q: (Off mike.) And hysteria is what I’m hearing from the Democrats. So it’s very interesting that you’re – (inaudible). And I think because they have been successful – and especially “they” meaning the Hispanic caucus, I think they made – (inaudible). And their main argument is civil rights, ethnic politics. And I really think that after the death of Ted Kennedy that this era is about over – the death of Ted Kennedy and the recession.

And the Democrats becoming more and more elite. I mean, you say – you’re showing how they probably – (inaudible) – become more and more – strangely, the party of labor. But I think partly because the Democratic leadership is a party – (inaudible). So I think Republicans have a huge opportunity here. (Inaudible) – panel a couple of weeks ago that immigration reform is about saving Christianity in America, saving the Catholic Church in America – (inaudible).

MR. KRIKORIAN: What’s the question, Peggy?

Q: The question is you don’t talk about the religious aspect. One thing – (inaudible) – majority of Mormons in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico are going to be Latino in the next 10, 15 years. This is a very conservative, very Republican group. (Inaudible.) What do you see about this religious – (inaudible)?

MR. GIMPEL: Well, I know that one particular of Hispanic Republican voting is evangelical church attendance, or evangelical conversion, if you will. And that would probably include Mormonism. I don’t think it’s a drop in the bucket, but I don’t think it’s a huge stampede, either. A generation from now, let’s see. Yeah. (Cross talk.)

Q: How do you explain that Arizona, with a huge Latino demographic, still was able to pass the laws that they have?

MR. GIMPEL: Yeah. I mean, I don’t think it’s negligible, but I think in 20 years.

MR. KRIKORIAN: I think Ramesh – go ahead.

MR. PONNURU: Sure. I’m just going to talk about another little element of what you said, which is I think we tend to think of sort of a top-bottom coalition as being a weak and vulnerable coalition. And for obvious reasons it is likely to be unstable. But that doesn’t mean it’s likely to be small.

Our thinking on this is conditioned by decades and decades in which we had this huge middle class that has been shrinking, partly because immigration – as all of us have been discussing – drives inequality. And under those circumstances I think it would be foolish to underestimate the kind of potential of – just because sort of the limousine liberal-ghetto coalition collapsed in the ‘60s and ‘70s and early ‘80s does not mean that something like it can’t survive in the future, and thrive, in fact.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Alan (sp), you had your hand up?

Q: Yes. (Inaudible.) What if the Republicans were to espouse an immigration policy based more on skills, more like Canada and Australia? What would the politics to that be? They’re not saying we’re against immigration. They’re not necessarily saying they want less immigration – well, less illegal immigration. But I’m talking about legal immigration. Given that current immigration levels are – I think more than half of current legal immigrants are based on family reunifications, totally different immigration policy than we had in the old days that we want to go back to, the McCarran-Walter Immigration Act.

MR. FRUM: As Ramesh said, the path of getting from here to there, we’ll ignore. But supposing it could happen, I think that would have obviously very beneficial effects for American society. And it would have powerful effects on conservative voting.

Let me just draw your attention to one of them. So one of the really demoralizing things about the current demographic reality in America is that the immigrant groups that you might think, based on a traditional economic analysis, should be attracted to the Republican Party – East Asians, for example – are actually especially repelled by the Republican Party. I think one of the points that Ruy Teixeira would make is that East Asians are the only group where a plurality call themselves liberal. And that’s increasingly true. We see even among Vietnamese-Americans under age 30 – we had a story about this on my site – younger Vietnamese-Americans, one of the most pro-Republican demographic groups, are trending Democratic.

Q: Why is that?

MR. FRUM: Why is that? Because they are getting a cultural message of non-welcome from Republicans. They look at the Republican Party and they say, I get it; this is the Glenn Beck party. And that’s – I know. And he may not be saying it, but I pick up bad vibrations from him – (inaudible) – we feel excluded.

If you had a message that said, not just, we are against X, but here is what we are for, here is our vision of how, in fact, people like you can be valued contributors to American society. And it would also drive home the point that this is not about race. This is about social cohesion. This is about building a strong middle class. In fact, this is about defeating an attempt to reward some few economically, in much the same – in a way that purports to help people lower down on the economic spectrum, but really does not. I think that would have a powerful message.

And one of the things that I think Republicans should be worrying about every single day, is why does the party – why does the message of enterprise and entrepreneurship and self-reliance not do better among East Asian and South Asian migrants, who you would think ought to respond to it? But they don’t because they hear other messages packed in with the enterprise message that they understandably don’t want.

Q: Thank you. (Off mike.)

MR. FRUM: Yeah. I don’t think – I don’t think you need hypersensitive ears. I don’t think you need hypersensitive ears to hear a lot of racial coding in the Republican message as it’s being propounded over the past half-dozen years and especially over the past two. And even if that racial coding is not packed in, it can be taken out. And these things then become very self-fulfilling.

When the Republicans have a success, as for example with Joseph Cao or Charles Djou, electing a flag bearer from that group, that suddenly when that person comes and votes the way in Congress that you would expect them to vote or they vote their constituents, that suddenly they hear all kinds of talk on the airwaves about how they’re not a real Republican, they’re not a good Republican; that Joseph Cao is suddenly persona non grata. And he’s a person that – he’s an imperfect person, as representatives tend to be, but he’s somebody who’s badly needed.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Go ahead. You go ahead.

MR. PONNURU: We don’t even always have tolerance for Massachusetts-Americans – (laughter) – who don’t vote a strict conservative line.

I would just – sort of picking up from that, there is a tendency for immigration skeptics – immigration realists to become not just realists and skeptics about minority outreach, but fatalists. And I think that’s a mistake. I think there are lots of reasons not – there are a lot of reasons to think that Republicans are not going to get a majority of the Hispanic vote, and certainly are going to get a majority of the black vote.

But I do think Republicans underperform in these groups when you compare it to people who sort of at least have enterprising values, are socially conservative and so forth. And I do think there are things that could be done which does not mean selling out on all issues that are related to affirmative action or immigration. And unfortunately we’ve allowed – the intra-conservative debates tend to be between people who either want to reach out by selling out or people who don’t want to sell out and therefore don’t want to reach out.

MR. KRIKORIAN: I actually wanted to disagree a little with David before we moved on. While the issue of non-welcoming stuff may well be there – I mean, I don’t dispute that that’s there sometimes – but I think it’s – the reason that we’re never going to get to some kind of magically skilled immigration policy is this sort of civil rights through which we view immigration. And that is the reason that even if we did have a very heavily, say, high-skilled, let’s say, South and East Asian immigration flow, wouldn’t make any difference in their political preferences, because skilled immigrants seem to actually be even more likely to be trans-national and post-national then less skilled immigrants.

This is something I wrote about some in my book. And it really does seem that those who have gone through a modern education system and become nationalized in their home countries, developed a fully formed national identity, are actually much less willing to actually buy into America as opposed to sort of use it as a convenient and appealing place to live.

And so if you had an immigration flow that, say, was flipped and was one-third family and two-thirds high-skilled immigration, you would end up with a large number of people who nonetheless are sort of coming into a trans-national and post-American environment. And the Democrats and the left in general are the party of post-Americanism. And so – I mean, I’m not sure we can run an experiment on this, but I don’t think it’s self-evident that if we had a more skilled immigration policy we would end up with something more appealing for.

MR. FRUM: Can I take 30 seconds?


MR. FRUM: Well, I think we do have a bit of an experiment with it, and that is what the experiment of what Canadians are doing. And a name who I think ought to be much better known in the United States is a man named Jason Kenney, who is the Canadian minister for citizenship and immigration. Jason Kenney. And this has been his brief. And he has had amazing success – and the Canadian Conservatives have had amazing success in winning – the single largest microgroup in Canada are Chinese-Canadians, who come from a variety of places. There are flow – some from Hong Kong and Singapore, some from Taiwan, some from mainland China.

And the Conservatives have, over the past decade, made amazing inroads. In fact, I think the single most – I don’t know if it’s a Chinese majority – (inaudible) – biggest Chinese plurality, which is just south of Vancouver, has just elected a Conservative MP who is a Chinese-Canadian, himself.

And what – I think we have to be aware of the reverberations – second- and third-order effects of what happens to the prior majority in this era. And if you have a migration that the prior majority finds threatening, then the prior majority behaves in ways that are threatening, but also, that looks threatening to the newcomers, and you create, then, intensifying suspicion. And I think that’s very much the story of what has happened in American politics over the past couple of years and the years before that.

If that doesn’t happen – if the immigration policy is working smoothly – even if the numbers are relatively large, what you find are high degrees of intermarriage. You don’t find a lot of special segregation, that people move into each other’s neighborhoods. I mean, there are Chinese-Canadian neighborhoods, but they seem to be very much one-generation phenomena. And people participate. And they say, you know what, I don’t need to maintain one foot in my old country because this new country is so clearly better and I feel so thoroughly at home.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Let me just add one response and then – but my one – two parts of my one response.

First is if there’s less gravity I would run faster, too. (Laughter.) I mean, that’s simply not going to happen, number one. But number two, Canada as an experiment isn’t all that appealing in a lot of ways because Canada’s already a post-nationalist state. You see what I mean? In other words, there’s no problem. In other words, they’re not really buying into a new national identity, because Canada really has ceased to be a nation in a lot of sense. They use to call it two nations in one state, and I think at this point it’s not even two anymore.

Anyway, let’s take one more.

MR. PONNURU: Nothing inspires bitter, ugly arguments like Canada. (Laughter.)

MR. FRUM: What did Jonah say, bomb Canada?

MR. KRIKORIAN: Yes, sir. And then you.

Q: (Off mike) – speaking on Republican prospects for the future. And I might have to disagree with you, sir. Because – you said something to the effect of the myth of the socially conservative voter, and that the ideology of conservatism may be irrelevant. But when you look at these new elements, when you look at communities of color overall, you will see that they are generally on a conservative bent, on a conservative leaning.

And I think, speaking to something that Mr. Krikorian said in the beginning, I think that there is actually – when he talked about, is this actually the demise of conservatism, is it actually more of a restructuring? Should the Republican Party actually start ending that cultural message of non-welcome and start saying, okay, maybe it is time to say that there is something that’s evolved in the society; things are not going to be as they were 20 years ago. What would you say to that? Would you say that the Republican Party may need to evolve beyond what they generally know?

I know there’s some folks out there that have suggested that they should maintain embracing their base or what have you – that traditional base, but that may not be prudent in this day and age. We’re looking at 38 Republican candidates for federal office in this country who are of color, and that’s only happened over the past two years. So something is changing. Do you think the Republican Party should be looking in those directions?

MR. FRUM: Well, you make a lot of rich points and I’m not sure I’ll be able to do justice to all of them. But let me try just two.

The first is, I’d like to know when you say you believe that there are large numbers of socially traditional voters in the new immigration flow, I’d like to know more about what you mean by that. I mean, I think it is true that if you poll them, you can get answers. They will express anti-abortion views. And unfortunately, they’ll also express some anti-gay views. But that does not necessarily predict what they do and how they vote.

I think it is very realistic to imagine that if you are somebody who needs a Section 8 voucher but also feels opposed to abortion, that when it comes time to vote, your need for that Section 8 voucher will swamp your opinion on abortion. That seems to be what happens when people actually go to the voting booth.

Q: But what if you don’t? I mean, take into consideration –

MR. FRUM: Well, that gets to Mark’s question, what if gravity were less, then we’d al-run faster. That doesn’t – I mean, that might change. But then, that’s the second part of the answer. What if they don’t?

I mean, it’s certainly possible to imagine a future – and I don’t know if this is a realistic scenario, but it’s an imaginable one – and I think this is the future that Karl Rove and President Bush very much had in mind – where the Republican Party adds to its white non-college voting base a big chunk of the Hispanic – the more socially conservative Hispanic vote. What would that party look like? That would be a party that was more traditional on issues like abortion and other life-type issues. But it would also have to be more generous in its social spending because those voters would need it.

Somebody referred to the Republican Party as the party of labor. The Republican Party is increasingly the party of retirees. And retirees have needs, and they are different from the needs of non-retirees. And people who are not so affluent have needs that are different from the people who are more affluent. So we would be building a party that was more socially traditional but less economically enterprising. And I don’t where – I think that would cause a huge political change that would make a lot of people who had been the core of the Republican Party in the Reagan years feel like this wasn’t their party anymore. They’re looking for the party of enterprise.

Q: That might not be the case, however. Because what I see is that you do see a lot of entrepreneurial immigrants coming into the country. They’re putting their time in. They’re working hard. And you say that the Republican Party is the party of labor. More often than not, you see immigrants coming in, working, putting their time in, making sure that they get what they want. But the problem is –

MR. FRUM: Those are the people whose votes Republicans and conservatives should be seeking. And so –

(Cross talk.)

MR. KRIKORIAN: Let’s talk another question. We’ll get to the points as we get on. Let’s talk a few more people.

MR. GIMPEL: It’s also very much a question of where they settle, where they reside, and whether there are any GOP candidates in those areas. Usually there aren’t. And the Republicans can’t recruit any credible GOP candidates in those areas. The Republicans, of course, need Latino candidates, for instance, and have a very, very hard time recruiting any that could possibly be competitive.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Let’s move – let’s take a few more. Bob and then you, sir, in the back.

Q: (Off mike.)

MR. PONNURU: Well, campaign consultants get a lot of money for that kind of thing. You want me to just give that away for free? (Laughter.)

Q: (Off mike.)

MR. PONNURU: Yeah. Well, I would say two things. One, merely advertising on black and Hispanic media outlets, if done right, I think could drive – and has, in fact, in places where it’s been done – driven marginal increases in the Republican share of the vote. Handling some of the immigration issues a little bit more – being a little bit more careful in the rhetorical approach that immigration restrictions take – and not just the rhetorical approach but also the policy approach.

I think, for example, the talk about ending birthright citizenship, while certainly as an abstract matter I think there is something to be said for it, I think strategically that it is a very, very bad idea for immigration restrictions to go down this road; that it’s going to be perceived by a lot of people and not just illegal immigrants and not just immigrants, as a mean-spirited assault on children. I mean, talk about not being welcoming. This is, we’re not going to welcome your babies, to people – tend to seem to kind of take personally, for some reason.

And I think there are just some things – you know, I would involve I think a rather small amount of government spending, but I think it could be good for the country and good for conservatives, to make an investment in expanding ESL programs. I mean, I think there are sort of gestures like that which would not be, I think, hostile to any of the principles that we hold or any of the principles that we ought to hold. And we ought to be thinking creatively about what sorts of things like that we could do.

MR. KRIKORIAN: You sir, in the back, and then you. Yeah. Yeah.

Q: (Off mike.) There are some ironies here. Fifteen years ago, no less than Harry Reid was telling us that – he said, I don’t see how we can have all these immigrants coming in when employment is so high. And now we hear a very different story, even though that basic truth remains. By the same token, the high school-educated white voters trending Republican may well be almost entirely explained by the solidification of evangelical Christians going into the Republican – (inaudible).

I guess the question that I have is, aren’t the Republicans worrying too much about alienating non-voters; meaning immigrants who don’t have citizenship yet – many of whom can’t because they’re not here legally – and their friends, who are not likely to vote their way, anyway? The Democrats have become less liberal precisely because the well-educated entrepreneurial types have been migrating to the Democrat Party and taking liberal programs like socialized medicine off the table. How do these changes and phenomena fit into this discussion?

MR. KRIKORIAN: Anybody want to take that? I think the core question is, are Republicans worrying too much about people who aren’t actually voting?

MR. FRUM: I think Republicans are not worrying enough about the question of why the Republican vote has been trending down in a lot of areas where the party has traditionally run well, among better-educated people of all races. And they are not thinking enough about the inability to connect with migrant groups that you would think, based on their patterns of income and enterprise, ought to be Republicans. I don’t think we worry about that – conservatives worry about that nearly enough.

And I don’t think Republicans worry enough about the way that the Republican message itself is changing. And I think the summer of the town halls is a real glimpse of things to come; that it’s a rhetoric of freedom wrapped around the policy of no changes in Medicare except to make the program ever more generous. And I don’t know what happens to the party of the town halls when it has to again encounter the responsibilities of government.

The problems associated with the cost of health care get ever worse. By the time there’s the next Republican president, that problem will be even bigger and more intractable than it is. I think it’s striking that the federal government, to a great extent, of increases in health care spending during the Bush years. Health care spending went up at a much more moderate pace – or health care costs went up at a much more moderate pace in the Clinton years than they did in the Bush years. And maybe that was just entirely a product of economic forces, the rise and then the fall of the HMO industry.

But it may also have been the difficulty the Republicans have in monitoring that kind of spending because so many of their constituents vote for – demand no restraint of any form of health care spending for the retired. So I don’t think – if behind your question is the suggestion that the Republicans can just charge forward and not worry at all about the portions of the immigrant community that ought to be reachable, I think that’s a mistake. You ought to worry about it, and not just for political reasons, by the way; also for decency reasons.

The Republican Party wants to govern the whole country and seeks to represent the whole country. Not everybody will vote for you, but you want to be a broadly representative party. Ramesh’s point about the birthright citizenship issue, I think, is here very on point. It is really not appetizing to see a senator from South Carolina insisting that Dred Scott was rightly decided.

MR. GIMPEL: I would just add that I think Latinos or Hispanics whose number one issue is immigration, such that that’s all they think about, are probably lost to Republicans. That’s what I would say. I would say that Hispanics out there – and there are many of these – who don’t think about immigration all the time, who are concerned about the economy, jobs, education – like my spouse, for instance – they’re winnable. They’re like every other American out there, okay? Immigration’s not something that’s on their mind all the time. And they’re like the Latinos that do vote Republican. I think they’re completely and totally winnable.

So I think that there is a bloc of Latinos or Hispanics whose number one issue is immigration, who think about that issue all the time, and I’m just not sure that that bloc of people is going to be winnable. But I don’t think we should kid ourselves into thinking that all Latinos out there in the electorate are always thinking about immigration all the time. I just do not think that’s true.

MR. PONNURU: If I could just add one other point. A lot of suburban white voters want to be nice. That is not an entirely bad thing. And they may have misgivings about immigration, but that does not mean they’re going to respond favorably to anything that they perceive as a campaign against Hispanics and other immigrant groups. I just think Republicans need to be mindful of that.

It’s not just – I mean, I think it is a matter of right that Republicans and all political actors should strive to govern in the interests of the entire community. But it’s also, I think, something that voters look for. They want their leaders not to be sort of the representative of the interests of small subsections of the public. And so it’s not just the decent thing to do. I think it is the right – it’s the politically advantageous thing to do to be mindful of that.


Q: (Off mike.) You know, just thinking demographically, David, about this question of skills. We do have sort of two places where immigrants are about or maybe even slightly more skilled than the average. And the other thing that might help is that it’s very diverse immigration. It’s much more diverse; not overwhelming Hispanic – San Francisco and Northern Virginia, or even Montgomery County.

But in both those cases, particularly in San Francisco, it has seemed to have not even a moderating effect on the politics there, in terms of both economic and social liberalism. Now, depending on what you think about that, but immigration that’s high-skilled seems to go on perfectly well in San Francisco. And in greater Northern Virginia, it’s generally transformed an area that was moderately Republican now into mostly Democratic.

So in both cases, it seemed to have had – they’re just two test cases, interesting. They’re very unusual in the United States that the immigrant average income and so forth is about the same as the native-born. So very interesting – and much more diverse, too; a more eclectic immigrant flow than you have most anywhere else in the country.

But on the question of the politics or the policy – so Ramesh, what do you think about the Republican Party saying, look, we just favor an end to chain migration and the lottery. Polls show they’re not very popular; they don’t seem to make much sense. And we favor vigorous enforcement of immigration laws because it’s the right thing. Those would have a significant effect for the country in terms of it wouldn’t add so much inequality and some of these things that we’re talking about.

And at the same time, it would help the party’s long-term political prospects. Obviously, they should never racialize the debate, not just because they’re trying to win votes, but because that’s just wrong to do, morally. But nonetheless, just say, look, they are the positions. They seem popular. In a way, fear or too much concern over, gee, who are we going to alienate, may take away really good issues from the party as well.

And there’s always that balance, right? Do we talk about social programs; but who are we going to lose? Do we talk about abortion; who are we going to lose? I mean, that issue always comes up. But it seems like getting rid of the chain migration, the lottery and being very pro-enforcement seems like a political winner. We’ll lose some folks. Don’t you kind of think? I guess it was two questions, so – anyway.

MR. PONNURU: Well, I mean, you do have to look at net costs. You can’t refrain from a political initiative because it’ll lose you some votes. The question is whether it gains you more than it loses. I certainly like the policy mix that you mentioned on the merits. I would wonder what that means in terms of the existing illegal immigrant population. But let’s not kid ourselves about the political downside. I mean, to a large group of voters this is going to be saying, we like you, not so hot on your brother and sister. I mean, let’s not underestimate the political downside of it.

And the other thing is, wherever you have these sorts of situations – it is not an infallible guide to what smart political strategy is – but you should always ask yourself, why is it that nobody has tried this? If this is so politically advantageous, why hasn’t anybody prospered politically by doing it? Maybe they just lack imagination or they lack spine. That happens. But maybe it’s not as obviously politically advantageous as we’d like to think or we wish that it were.

MR. FRUM: Steve – (inaudible) – to the question – it wasn’t a question that was directed at me, but to the observation. I don’t know the answer to this but I would be very curious to know what is the trend in old stock population voting in the two areas you mentioned, Montgomery County and San Francisco.

And I would intuit – I would imagine that you would find that they, too, have been drifting away from the Republican Party because of the ongoing – I mean, if the question is, why is it that immigrant PhDs in life sciences in Montgomery County are drifting away, aren’t Republican? I would ask why are the native-born – the great-grandchildren of the native-born PhDs in life sciences in Montgomery County also trending Democratic?

When the Republican Party loses the votes of the highly educated, as it’s been doing now for a quarter of a century, it will lose the votes, I think, of highly educated people across a lot of different ethnic groups. And I don’t know that that’s the case, but I would be interested to know. I would guess.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Well, it’s 10:40, so to respect people’s time, let’s wrap it up here. I’m not sure if the other guests are going to be willing to be accosted afterwards, but I’m here. We’ll have a transcript and a video of this online probably next week. I appreciate everybody participating and everybody coming and hope to see you at our next event. Thank you. (Applause.)