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 TrumpGraham says he hopes that Trump runs again Trump says Stacey Abrams 'might be better than existing governor' Kemp Executive privilege fight poses hurdles for Trump 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 CurbeloNation's fraught politics leads to fear, scars and exits Direct air capture is a crucial bipartisan climate policy Biden's corporate tax hike is bad for growth — try a carbon tax instead MORE and the outgoing Ileana Ros Lehtinen. West of Washington and east of Denver, incumbents Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockThe Memo: Never Trumpers sink into gloom as Gonzalez bows out Sunday shows preview: States deal with fallout of Ida; Texas abortion law takes effect The Memo: Trump pours gas on tribalism with Jan. 6 rewrite MORE and Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanColorado governor says he was not exposed to COVID-19 after Aurora mayor tests positive Colorado mayor says he called protesters 'domestic terrorists' out of 'frustration' Colorado governor directs officials to reexamine death of Elijah McClain in police custody MORE lost by significant margins. In Texas, Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Ex-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results MORE and John CulbersonJohn Abney CulbersonNASA's Europa Clipper has been liberated from the Space Launch System Texas Republicans sound post-2020 alarm bells 2020 Democratic Party platform endorses Trump's NASA moon program MORE lost in the Dallas and Houston suburbs. West of Chicago, Peter Roskam Peter James RoskamBottom line Postcards become unlikely tool in effort to oust Trump Bottom line MORE and Randy HultgrenRandall (Randy) Mark HultgrenRecord number of Black women elected to Congress in 2020 Republican challenging freshman Dem rep says he raised 0,000 in 6 days Illinois Dems offer bill to raise SALT deduction cap 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) Love'The View' plans series of conservative women as temporary McCain replacements Black Republican advocates his case for CBC membership Black women look to build upon gains in coming elections 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 RyanPaul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book Paul Ryan says it's 'really clear' Biden won election: 'It was not rigged. It was not stolen' Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms 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.