Immigration and the GOP

My friend Robert Bluey really laid into Michael Gerson’s piece in the Post today. But I think that Rob missed the point. For him, the focus of the piece was this paragraph:

It is a strange spectacle. Conservatives are intent on building a more appealing, post-Bush Republican Party. But their most obvious change so far is to reverse remarkable Republican gains among one of the fastest-growing groups of American voters. The renovators seem more like the wrecking crew.

Rob’s consistent critique of immigration reform has been that it is driven more by politics than by values and policies. From this view, the debate over immigration reform seems clear cut. However, that’s clearly not where Gerson is coming from. I took the key paragraph to be:

One gets the impression of decent men, intimidated by the vocal anger of elements of their own party.

As I have argued before, all the first tier Republican candidates have been what is called by restrictionists "open borders" people. Sam Brownback and John McCain have actually maintained their positions, while Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani have complicated their positions but not caved too much.

What about Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson who have simply sold their principles down the river on this issue?

One gets the impression of decent men, intimidated by the vocal anger of elements of their own party.

So why have McCain, Brownback, and, to a degree, Huckabee, maintained their positions?  My gut is that it is because their positions are deeply grounded in their values and, in particular, their religious values. Gerson actually praised McCain’s religious argument for immigration reform:

For McCain, they were not "illegals," they were human beings, with names. "We can’t let immigrants break our laws with impunity," he said. "But these people are also God’s children who wanted simply to be Americans."

This is not moral exhibitionism; it is just morality. And my respect for McCain, it turns out, is less and less grudging.

It should not be surprising that the two serious candidates of religious voters, Huckabee and Brownback, are members of the two major denominations that have taken a position in support of immigration reform. Their values are deeply grounded.

Some people, myself included, view immigration reform as a moral issue. And a simple one. And a deep one.

Now, Rob doesn’t understand this. For Rob, Gerson’s argument is about politics.  It is about Hispanic votes for the GOP. But for Gerson, McCain, and President Bush, that is a secondary argument. As Gerson said, "it is just morality."

Gerson’s point is, in part, also about integrity. People who are not haters have adopted the language and stance of hatred for votes. That is immoral. Tom Tancredo’s position on immigration is at least sincere. It is a serious position, even if it is irresponsible and wrong. However, the position of Thompson and Romney are different. They are weak. They are insincere for transactional reasons. They are simply acting out of politics. They are, as Gerson points out:

One gets the impression of decent men, intimidated by the vocal anger of elements of their own party.

The Republican Party deserves better than this from its leaders. They are to be leaders. They are to be men of principles. Riding the mob to victory is no way to lead or rule. But some parts of the conservative movement don’t understand that.