Republicans must learn from the election mistake on immigration

Republicans must learn from the election mistake on immigration
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What is the midterm lesson for President TrumpDonald John TrumpImpeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent Feds say marijuana ties could prevent immigrants from getting US citizenship Trump approval drops to 2019 low after Mueller report's release: poll MORE and the Republican Party? Shelve the divisive anti-immigration platform and go in favor of a uniting pro-growth message to avoid losing more ground the next election.

No one embodies this lesson better than Kris Kobach, the Republican candidate for governor in Kansas. Kobach is a longtime and vocal immigration critic. He is the architect of harsh anti-immigration legislation in Arizona and Alabama that courts have largely invalidated. He also headed up the quixotic and now disbanded White House voter fraud commission. He successfully primaried sitting Republican governor John Colyer with the backing of Trump. Yet he managed to handily lose his race last week in Kansas, a state that Trump won by 20 points two years ago.

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Throughout the country, suburban districts filled with college educated and pro-immigration voters were the bulkhead upon which the blue wave crashed. South of Miami, Democrats picked up House seats held by Republican Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloHillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Lawmaker sees political payback in fight over 'deepfakes' measure | Tech giants to testify at hearing on 'censorship' claims | Google pulls the plug on AI council Lawmaker alleges political payback in failed 'deepfakes' measure Ex-GOP lawmaker joins marijuana trade group MORE and the outgoing Ileana Ros Lehtinen. West of Washington and east of Denver, incumbents Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockGOP lawmaker introduces bill to stop revolving door Ex-lawmakers face new scrutiny over lobbying Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign MORE and Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard Coffman20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform Denver Post editorial board says Gardner endorsement was 'mistake' Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign MORE lost by significant margins. In Texas, Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsHillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Lawmaker sees political payback in fight over 'deepfakes' measure | Tech giants to testify at hearing on 'censorship' claims | Google pulls the plug on AI council Lawmaker alleges political payback in failed 'deepfakes' measure As Russia collusion fades, Ukrainian plot to help Clinton emerges MORE and John CulbersonJohn Abney Culberson20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform The Hill's Morning Report - Dems debate if Biden's conduct with women disqualifying Ex-GOP lawmaker joins lobbying firm MORE lost in the Dallas and Houston suburbs. West of Chicago, Peter Roskam Peter James RoskamBlue states angry over SALT cap should give fiscal sobriety a try Illinois Dems offer bill to raise SALT deduction cap Illinois New Members 2019 MORE and Randy HultgrenRandall (Randy) Mark HultgrenIllinois Dems offer bill to raise SALT deduction cap The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority Lauren Underwood becomes youngest ever black woman to be sworn in to Congress MORE lost in the suburbs as well.

Democrats flipped multiple suburban seats near Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, and Detroit. Incumbent Dave Brat lost his reelection bid in the Richmond suburbs. Even Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority Juan Williams: Racial shifts spark fury in Trump and his base Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign MORE and Keith Yoder in the conservative leaning Salt Lake City and Kansas City suburbs lost their seats. If 2016 was the election of the disaffected Democrats in the midwest, then 2018 was the revolt of the moderate Republicans across the suburbs.

Rather than engage in a positive campaign featuring tax cuts, wage increases, full employment, and 3 percent economic growth that would appeal to suburban voters, President Trump chose to campaign on the caravan, birthright citizenship, and homages to his unpopular family separation policy. Republican election ads suggested immigrants were violent criminals. Trump called it the “election of the caravan.”

Despite what the comments section at the Daily Caller may suggest, there are not enough anti-immigrant voters to win close elections. According to exit polls, 22 percent of voters listed immigration as the most important issue facing the nation. Nearly twice as many voters listed health care as the top issue, while nearly three times as many listed health care or the economy. According to a national poll this fall, voters say immigration helps the country rather than hurts it by a margin of two to one.

Even as a rallying issue for the core Republican base, it is unlikely that immigration is best. Among the top issue immigration voters, 75 percent were Republicans. Yet an internal Republican National Committee memo found that a mere 12 percent of respondents said illegal immigration was the most important problem facing the country. While the anti-immigrant rhetoric toward the end of the campaign may have driven up Republican turnout in rural areas on election night, these parts of the country are shrinking in favor of growing suburbs. The memo thus recommended mobilizing establishment Republican and independent voters.

Meanwhile, the immigration obsession of the Republicans seemed to energize independent and moderate voters. According to exit polls, white women with a college education, a group that has been especially turned off by recent White House immigration policies, voted for Democrats over Republicans by a margin of 59 percent to 39 percent. By a margin of three to one, nonwhite voters, whose population numbers are rapidly growing, pulled the lever for Democrats in an increase from two years ago.

Recent elections, including special elections this year, have not yielded campaign dividends and may have generated blowback for Republican candidates attacking immigrants. Outgoing House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAppeals court rules House chaplain can reject secular prayers FEC filing: No individuals donated to indicted GOP rep this cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday MORE even called the president before the midterms to beg him to lay off the fear mongering on the trail. Republicans cannot allow the retirements of Ryan and other Republicans in favor of immigration to symbolize the further degeneration of the party from pro-growth to anti-immigrant.

To have a chance to win back the suburbs, which will increasingly determine state and national races, Republicans should reach out and make common cause with immigrants over shared values of hard work, family, and faith rather than write them off as a lost cause. To demonstrate they have learned this lesson, the reported purge of White House officials after this midterm election should continue with advisers like Stephen Miller who feed the worst anti-immigrant impulses of the president.

Jordan Bruneau is a policy analyst at the Becoming American Initiative.