Are GOP Immigration Hardliners Out-Of-Sync With Their Constituents?


The Rachel Maddow Show is reporting a fascinating shift on the issue of illegal immigration among GOP voters in Florida. In 2008, 29% said illegals should get a path to citizenship. Now, 36 percent say they should—a 7 percent increase. Likewise, 40% then said that illegals should be deported. Now 31 percent want that—a 9 percent drop.

Could this mean that in their zeal to out-tough each other on immigration, Republican presidential candidates have actually moved rank-and-file opinion in the opposite direction? It is hard to know without figures from other states, but one thing is certain, there has been a sea change in the rhetoric of the Republican leadership.

There was a time not that long ago when the GOP was a much kinder, gentler party on this issue. In 1996, Sen. Spencer Abraham, a Republican Lebanese American from Michigan, was heading the Senate's Subcommittee on Immigration and fought hard for freer immigration policies on every front—high-tech and low-tech; family and work etc. etc. He thought E-verify-type proposals to snag illegals were wrong because they would require employers to get the "federal government's permission before hiring anyone - citizen or not."

And he penned sentences like:

Anti-immigrant panic is unjustified. Illegal immigration is a manageable problem calling for prudent law-enforcement measures. Legal immigration is a controlled and limited process…Punish the lawbreakers, but don't extinguish Lady Liberty's lamp for honest immigrants who are willing to work hard and wait to become Americans.

Now Republican candidates want to deploy drones, boots and electrified fences capable of killing crossers on the Southern border to stem a tide of illegals that has already stopped thanks to a tanking economy.