By Howard Foster -
Anyone wondering why Mitt Romney lost, specifically why six million fewer voters turned out in 2012 than four years earlier, just needs to know who those six million no shows are. Surveys reveal they are under or unemployed, heavily white, and rightly feel the two-party system doesn’t address their concerns.
Had Romney been able to speak to them, he would have won. If the Republicans were serious about winning in 2016 they would tailor their message to appeal to these people, who have voted for Reagan and Bush and would be open to another Republican.
If I were writing the script, I’d start by acknowledging that the low-end employment market is awful. Unemployment for people with high school educations is between 10-13%. The last thing these people need to hear is “immigration reform,” which to them means more competition for scarce jobs and lower wages.
Republicans were on the right track a few weeks ago when Speaker Boehner announced that immigration reform was dead for this year. That would allow Republican candidates who understand economics to point out that we killed the bill- a big plus in winning over this constituency.
Instead we had the dismaying spectacle of a meeting last week of the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition, an industry association promoting cheap labor, hosting our own Congressmen Aaron Schock and Adam Kinzinger.
The Congressmen spoke in favor of liberalized immigration, putting themselves completely on the side of business and against the downscale workers we need to win over. Congressman Kinzinger’s appearance is especially disingenuous. He just won a primary against a more conservative challenger who criticized him on the immigration issue, among others. I doubt he would have spoken to this group before the primary.
Congressman Schock went so far as to say anyone working in this country illegally should obtain citizenship. He offered no qualifiers. Whatever that number may be, 10 million, or 20 million, and regardless of the effect on the unemployment rate, or the cost to the taxpayers in entitlement spending , Mr. Schock wants them here permanently.
One would think Congressman Schock might have hedged a little by pointing out that unemployment in his hometown of Peoria is nearly 9% and has a poverty rate of 18%, twice the state average, making it a very poor choice for an expansion of the supply of workers. But he did not. He sees the world through the lens of businesses.
The typical Republican fundraising event, where Congressman Schock spends an inordinate amount of time, consists of business owners and hedge fund managers and their spouses. Nobody is underemployed or working for $10/hour in a dead-end job with no prospects of upward mobility. The districts Congressmen Schock and Kinzinger are gerrymandered to elect Republicans. They don’t need to win over downscale, marginal voters.
But the country isn’t like that, and we’ve lost too many people to be telling business owners what they want to hear on immigration. The Chamber of Commerce Republican is what we get when districts are drawn by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Not only are Republicans relegated to a few heavily rural areas, but the Congressmen elected from such districts think they know how to win over the 90% of the country they venture into for occasional trade association meetings.
Howard Foster is a Chicago attorney specializing in immigration law.