GOP's Gillespie: Republicans shouldn't fear immigration reform

Republicans looking toward a presidential run in 2016 have nothing to fear from embracing comprehensive immigration reform, according to a top GOP strategist.

Former Republican National Committee Chairman (RNC) Ed Gillespie, who served as a top adviser to former President George W. Bush, is touting the results of two focus groups that he says show support for an immigration overhaul in the key presidential nominating states of Iowa and South Carolina.

“It does seem that there is a changing dynamic,” said Gillespie, who argued voters were in a different mood when Bush tried to move immigration reform.

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“The first time I came across the issue is when I was RNC chairman on talk radio in Iowa. I was touting [President George W. Bush’s] position on it, and I got lit up for about 40 minutes…,” he said. “To see these results out of Iowa with caucus-goers was of great interest to me because I do think the dynamic is changing.”

Members of the focus groups were walked through the provisions expected to be included in a Senate immigration reform bill. Gillespie said majorities of the groups said they would back someone who supported the bill over someone who wanted to deport all illegal immigrants.

Gillespie worked as an adviser on GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012. He came on board after Romney went to the right on immigration during the primary season.

Gillespie has declined to discuss his involvement with Romney’s campaign — but said he thought that Republicans who’d sought to score points on the issue had chased “political fool’s gold.”

The focus groups were conducted for Resurgent Republic by GOP pollster John McLaughlin.

He and Gillespie touted results that found 19 of 20 members of the focus group in South Carolina backed a candidate who supported comprehensive reform that included border security and allowing undocumented immigrants to “earn citizenship” in 10 years rather than one who advocated for a plan to deport illegal immigrants.

The two argued educating the GOP base would allow pro-immigration Republicans to avoid a backlash.

“They don't like amnesty, but when you read them the conditions of a pathway to citizenship, they don't consider that amnesty,” McLaughlin said. “So one of the key things for Republicans is to get the idea out that there are all these conditions here, so it's not amnesty.”