In 2007, when then-governor Eliot Spitzer announced his plans to allow illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses, I began receiving mailers like the one above from my county Republican party. Democrats I spoke with said that the fall-out from Spitzer’s plan would destroy Democratic chances in the 2007 county elections, that it would keep Democrats from gaining seats in the 2008 State Senate election, and that it spelled doom for Democratic candidates running in districts like mine (NY-29). In fact, county Democrats picked up two lej seats in 2007 (which led to the firing of the guy who masterminded the mailers), took over the State Senate in 2008 for the first time in over forty years, and gained two upstate Congressional seats, including mine.
Anti-immigration political tactics worked just as badly in Arizona:
McCain says that last year he saw how toothless the issue was in Arizona. “Congressman J. D. Hayworth had a pretty good opponent,” he said of the former Republican from Arizona, who lost his seat in the 2006 midterm election. “J.D. ran just on the issue of immigration, in a moderate but Republican district. Arizona State University is there, in Phoenix. And J.D. got beat by four points in the general election. There was a guy who was going to take Jim Kolbe’s seat”—an Arizona congressman who retired last year. “Jim was there twenty years, and had always carried the district well. The Republican candidate was another one where immigrant, immigration, anti-illegal immigration was his theme. He lost by twelve points. So I think there is a lesson in some of those elections when people use anti-immigration as a major part of their campaign. But I also know that it galvanizes a certain part of the Republican Party.”
Note that it’s a given that anti-immigrant politics are a terrible long-term strategy. This isn’t even about that — they don’t even work in the short term. So why did Romney and Giuliani choose to Tancredo themselves into ignominious defeat? I think it’s because they overestimated the power of things like the “brick brigade”, which formed to oppose McCain-Kennedy type legislation:
Advocates of tougher border security have sent thousands of bricks to Senate and House offices in recent weeks to make a none-too-subtle point with lawmakers about where many of their constituents come down on emerging immigration bills.
Leaders of the campaign, which has delivered an estimated 10,000 bricks since it began in April, said they had hit on the idea as a way to emphasize the benefits of a fence along the border with Mexico.
The same thing is happening again with the stimulus package. Despite polls showing its popularity and Obama’s overwhelming popularity, Villagers and Republicans alike are convinced it’s smart politics to oppose it because “the polls show one thing but the constituent calls to congressional offices against the stimulus are showing something else.”
Following the brick bridage’s marching orders was calamitous for the Republicans in 2008, not just because of the examples cited above but because McCain (who once co-authored a smart, fair immigration reform bill) lost the Latino vote by 2:1 largely because of this. So why is the GOP now taking orders from the silly putty and balls brigade? It could be fear of primaries, but look how Romney, Giuliani, and Tancredo did in those. And why does the Village seem to think this is all such a good idea?
Fool them once…