While Mitt Romney has enjoyed relatively soft treatment from the mainstream media, a recent front-page article in the Washington Post telegraphed the cheap shots Republicans can expect in the general election.
Alleging that Romney's "harsh rhetoric [against amnesty] is eroding the party's already fragile standing" with Hispanics, the Post story typically blurred the line between legal and illegal immigrants. It's an old media trick to set up a xenophobic straw man and knock him down.
Yet opinion polls consistently show that a majority of voters support enforcement of immigration laws, and, in many cases, tighter controls. Romney, like most of his fellow Republicans, is very much in the mainstream of public opinion when he opposes "amnesty" schemes that would reward illegal aliens with a path to citizenship.
Waffling on the border has cost Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry among Republican voters. And Jon Huntsman's support of the DREAM Act, which grants in-state college tuition to illegals, hasn't helped his struggling campaign.
A new poll by Transatlantic Trends finds most voters -- Republicans, Democrats and Independents -- side with the majority position of the GOP presidential field on immigration. And, yes, they view the issues as an economic one. To wit:
- 53 percent consider immigration more problem than prospect for America.
- 57 percent say legal and illegal immigrants take jobs from Americans.
- 53 percent say immigrants drive wages down.
- 63 percent agree that immigration places a heavy drain on social services.
In questioning the high level of legal immigration, 47 percent of respondents went even further than the GOP field by saying this country has "too many immigrants" -- legal and illegal.
But immigration enthusiasts, playing the race card, aren't about to be dissuaded by the facts, says James Edwards of the Center for Immigration Studies.
"Instigators hope to turn whoever the Republican nominee is into a George W. Bush redux. If successful, the open-borders lobby -- Big Business, Big Labor, Big Religion, and ethnic identity political groups -- wins, no matter which party prevails in November," Edwards predicts.
"Those groups have pre-set their story lines: If Barack Obama wins, the GOP ran an anti-Hispanic campaign. If the GOP candidate wins, Obama lost the Latino vote because he was so 'aggressive' on deportation and failed to deliver mass amnesty. Their conclusion either way is that amnesty and Latino pandering must prevail."
So voters can expect to see more headlines like the one that appeared last month in the National Journal Daily, which trumpeted "The GOP's Immigration Problem."
Republicans caved to the agitprop in 2008, when they nominated John McCain, co-author of amnesty legislation in the U.S. Senate. But "the maverick's" curtsy to liberalism did little to attract Hispanic votes and gave conservatives even less incentive to support him.
McCain garnered 31 percent of the Latino vote, compared with Bush's 40 percent share in 2004. Smaller overall GOP turnout in 2008 sealed the party's doom.
A better and braver model for Republicans is offered by Sen. Marco Rubio. Opposing all forms of amnesty, the Florida Republican declares that as long as U.S. unemployment remains high, he would not relax immigration restrictions. If the jobless rate declines, he would favor easing immigration laws for highly educated immigrants, political refugees and agricultural workers.
That's the same position articulated by Romney and the majority of the GOP presidential field. This confluence of thought -- along with the fact that Rubio, son of Cuban immigrants, happens to hail from the nation's largest swing state -- fuels speculation that the 40-year-old freshman senator would be the party's best vice presidential choice.
Rubio insists he will not be on the 2012 GOP ticket. Whether he is or not, he's no Hispanic pander-bear. His squabble with Univision over the Spanish-language television network's reportage of his brother-in-laws criminal past showed the senator's independence from Latino corporate influence.
Mario Lopez, head of the Washington, D.C.-based Hispanic Leadership Fund, expressed "concern about the rhetoric coming out of the GOP field."
"The demographics are changing, and conservatives must acknowledge that," Lopez told Sunshine State News. The Hispanic Leadership Fund's political action committee endorsed McCain in 2008.
Lopez, whose organization promotes "free markets and limited government," said "some feel we should not endorse if Romney is the nominee because of his rhetoric." McCain endorsed Romney this week.
Skeptics of the demographic argument counter that media narratives and opinion polls overrate the clout of Hispanic voters. Some 12 million Latinos in this country are presumably ineligible to vote because of their illegal status, and Hispanic voting rates tend to be lower than average, especially among Democrats.
Jack Oliver, of Floridians for Immigration Enforcement, calls a tough stand on immigration "a win-win for the Republicans."
"Governor Rick Scott and some of our congressional candidates demonstrated that the last election,"said Oliver, a member of the party for 35 years. "Getting weak-kneed or trying to ignore the issue [of illegal immigration] will hurt Republicans in November," said Oliver, a member of the party for 35 years.
"Trying to appease open-border Hispanics by being soft on enforcement won't get a significant amount of the Hispanic vote. The majority of Hispanics are working poor and will never support candidates who reduce public benefits any more than poor whites or blacks support Republicans."
Hoping for a fair shake from the Fourth Estate is equally naive, Oliver believes.
Recalling the McCain experience in 2008, he observed, "The media will push for a RINO nominee and then turn on the candidate in the general election."
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 801-5341.