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 TrumpBiden, Sanders lead field in Iowa poll The Memo: Cohen fans flames around Trump Memo Comey used to brief Trump on dossier released: report 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 CurbeloThe Hill's Morning Report — Will Trump strike a deal with Chuck and Nancy? GOP lawmakers call for autopsy on 'historic losses' Bipartisan group of lawmakers propose landmark carbon tax MORE and the outgoing Ileana Ros Lehtinen. West of Washington and east of Denver, incumbents Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockTrump attorney general pick a prolific donor to GOP candidates, groups: report Virginia New Members 2019 Defeated Republicans mocked by Trump fire back at president MORE and Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanGardner gets first Dem challenger for 2020 Senate race The 5 most competitive Senate races of 2020 10 things we learned from the midterms MORE lost by significant margins. In Texas, Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsGOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote House GOP blocks lawmakers from forcing Yemen war votes for rest of year Advocates see state legislatures as next frontier for pot legalization MORE and John CulbersonJohn Abney CulbersonNASA lost key support to explore Jupiter's moon Texas New Members 2019 Republicans must learn from the election mistake on immigration MORE lost in the Dallas and Houston suburbs. West of Chicago, Peter Roskam Peter James RoskamIllinois New Members 2019 Defeated Republicans mocked by Trump fire back at president House GOP returns to Washington after sobering midterm losses MORE and Randy HultgrenRandall (Randy) Mark HultgrenIllinois New Members 2019 Republicans must learn from the election mistake on immigration Newly elected Dems downplay midterms results as referendum on Trump 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) LoveVoters on both sides chose people who pledged to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid Juan Williams: Nowhere to go for black Republicans WHIP LIST: Pelosi seeks path to 218 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 RyanThe Hill's 12:30 Report – Cohen says Trump knew payments were wrong | GOP in turmoil over Trump shutdown threat | Kyl to resign from Senate at year's end Trump leaves GOP in turmoil with shutdown looming Senate heads toward floor fight on criminal justice bill 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.