The war within the Republican Party concerning illegal immigration continues with hardliners like Pat Buchanan, Phylis Schlafly, Ron Paul, Tom Tancredo on one side, with John McCain, Sarah Palin, Richard Nadler among those who favor a "path to citizenship" on the other.
The deep thinkers of the deportation movement — I mean Pat Buchanan and Phyllis Schlafly, not my recent critics on NRO — envision a restructuring of the conservative movement and the Republican party, one that replaces the “fusionist” alliance of traditionalists, entrepreneurs, and defense hawks with a new alliance of traditionalists, middle-class workers, and economic nationalists. This “new” American conservatism is actually an echo of the “conservatism” of the old world, built on blood and soil, or, in Mike Savage’s formulation, borders, language, and culture. The “outreach” contemplated by advocates of this revised conservatism is ambitious in the extreme.
Its intellectual avatars experimented with various academic formulations — American civics education, official English, “fair” trade, and nativism. Each enjoyed a constituency within the conservative movement, and outside of it. But none of these formulations were “wedge issues” sufficiently powerful to effect a lasting mass realignment of working-class Democrats into either a reformed Republican party or a new “third force.” Pat Buchanan tried both. Running on this mix, he lost three dozen consecutive Republican primaries, and split the Reform party in two. (Somehow, the “peasants with pitchforks” were less dedicated to Christian doctrine than he.)
But 9/11 brought a new opportunity. Perhaps the national-security fears widely shared by all Americans could be fused with anti-immigrant, anti-capitalist, and even anti-war populism. Hispanic “invaders” and their wicked employers might be the bogeymen needed to cement the commitment of the American worker to the conservative nation-state. If talk-show passion and book sales were indicative, the mix was a sure winner. Major groups, notably the Eagle Forum, signed on to the new project, and many others went along for the ride.
The ride was short. The “conservative” project to remove an estimated 12 million illegals proved to be a wedge issue for Democrats, not Republicans. Most conservatives expected the steep decline that GOP candidates suffered among Latinos in 2008. But few anticipated the simultaneous fracturing of conservative support among groups that were neither Hispanic nor immigrant.
The sheer radicalism of mass deportation caused an anti-conservative backlash within entire industries, many of them traditionally Republican — farmers, ranchers, non-union contractors, restaurateurs, orchard horticulturalists, hospitality providers. This reaction imploded the Republican party in the Southwest and Florida, damaged it severely in the West, and weakened it everywhere.