This party will come back. But the party's message has got to be that different points of view are included in the party. And -- take, for example, the immigration debate. That's obviously a highly contentious issue. And the problem with the outcome of the initial round of the debate was that some people said, well, Republicans don't like immigrants. Now, that may be fair or unfair, but that's what -- that's the image that came out.
And, you know, if the image is we don't like immigrants, then there's probably somebody else out there saying, well, if they don't like the immigrants, they probably don't like me, as well. And so my point was, is that our party has got to be compassionate and broad-minded.
Quite so. Now it's true that immigration reform is a tough subject for conservatives. True too, that when it comes to immigration there are some many on the restrictionist wing who consider Bush to be either a) a sentimentalist or b) corporate America's pawn or c) both of the above. Equally, the orthodox Republican position on immigration - border enforcement first, then reform - is not desperately unpopular. But a popular (or at least not unpopular) position is only half of the matter: you have to sell it well too. And on a subject as contentious as immigration, that requires a degree of tact and sophistication that, by and large, seems alien to many Congressional and grass-roots Republicans.
Immigration reform isn't just a matter of courting the hispanic vote either. It's about white votes too, particularly college-educated, middle-class white votes. Pretty much every American under 35 has been educated in a system that is extraordinarily sensitive to racial issues; they are well-attuned to the nuances of language when race is discussed. They understand the code. Republicans too often seem to forget this. When they talk about immigration, they do so in tones that too often seem brutish, narrow and exclusionary. And this costs them support from voters* who might actually agree with the essence of the GOP position, but balk at signing on to it because of the way it is expressed.
So it isn't just that legal Hispanic immigrants might be turned off by the GOP's language on immigration, so too are educated, upscale white voters who don't like the idea of endorsing a party that gives the impression, unwittingly or not, of being hostile to immigration. The GOP's posture on immigration fosters the impression, fairly or not, that they're the "nasty party". As far as political branding goes, that's a toxic position for any party to find itself in.
It's a shame, then, that Bush was never really in a position to make a real push for real immigration reform. That, like so much of his domestic agenda, was another victim of 9/11 and the resulting foreign policy distractions. This in turn persuaded Karl Rove to run negative campaigns in 2002 and 2004 that, by retreating to the base, abandoned any hope the GOP might once have had of expanding its support amongst Hispanic and black voters (though Bush did win 11% of the black vote in 2004, up from 9% in 2000, if I recall correctly). That was a perfectly sensible ploy in the short-term, but it hasn't done the GOP many favours in the longer-term. No surprise then that Bush's verdict on the Clinton years -"So much promise, to so little purpose" - also applies to much of his own Presidency.
*But what about working-class white voters? Ah, yes, that's a different matter entirely, worthy of consideration some other time.
UPDATE: See Weigel for the kind of thinking that will lead has led the GOP to ruin.