Here's an exit poll you may have missed: 47 percent of Republican voters in Texas are in favor of allowing the undocumented a chance to stay in this country. While 43 percent oppose, the slight plurality favoring practicality is significant, considering Texas is both deeply Republican and a border state. And yet, you wouldn't know this from listening to the two Republican front-runners, who support hardline immigration positions such as forcibly deporting the approximately 12 million to 13 million undocumented living in the shadows.
Perhaps even more compelling is that the same CNN exit poll found that Republican voters, in the important swing state of Virginia, favored providing legal status to the undocumented by a margin of nearly 60 percent. There are similar findings in other primary states that have already weighed in, including South Carolina, which voted for Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE convincingly.
Even more dispiriting for immigration hardliners is that exit poll results show that Republican voters do not list immigration as their top issue. Instead, most Republican voters are citing jobs and the economy as the most important issues facing the country. In fact, according to Gallup, there is actually some overlap among both Republican and Democratic primary voters on the four top issues: the economy, terrorism, jobs and healthcare. Immigration is conspicuously absent from this list.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that the majority of Republican voters are not voting in droves because of immigration and actually favor a pathway to legality for the undocumented, Trump and Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzMatthew McConaughey on potential political run: 'I'm measuring it' Professor tells Cruz that Texas's voter ID law is racist Schumer moves to break GOP blockade on Biden's State picks MORE (Texas) rail about amnesty, building an impenetrable border and rounding up illegal immigrants. What gives? The likeliest answer is that there is a small, but vocal, group of Republican voters and activists pushing the two leading Republican candidates to tack further to the right on this issue.
On both policy and politics, this approach is misguided.
Politically, as exit polling suggests, Republicans are better off zeroing in on the economy and jobs. After eight disastrous years of an economy that has seen stagnant wages and millions of Americans giving up on finding employment, Republicans have a golden opportunity to showcase conservative economic policies that will spur the economy to create long-term, high-paying jobs. Similarly on national security, polls show that many Americans are losing faith in President Obama and the Democratic Party's ability to lead the fight against Islamic extremism and international terrorists.
But more important than politics, Republicans are also better positioned to lead on policy. When it comes to immigration, the American people desperately need Republicans to lead on this issue. Republicans are right to say that we must enforce our immigration laws and discourage illegal immigration. But to lead, Republicans must also abandon costly, ineffective and irrational hardline immigration policy positions that have no chance of ever being enacted — and as the polls suggest, Republican voters reject.
Cruz and Trump are both smart men that know better than to bash immigrants. As a real estate developer who has employed immigrants in the past, Trump should know that immigrant labor has been responsible for building the most successful country the world has ever known. As for the Canadian-born Cruz, as the son of a Cuban immigrant, the Texas senator knows firsthand that immigration adds to, not detracts from, the American spirit and character.
Immigrant-bashing is fool's gold. The sooner some in the Republican Party realize this, the better their chances to recapture the White House after a long time in the political wilderness.
Ortega is a senior writer for Opportunity Lives. Follow him on Twitter @IzzyOrtega.