Grover Norquist, the man with perhaps the most incontrovertible conservative street cred out there, says the immigration proposals that are being floated by Democrats are nothing to be afraid of. President Obama has made immigration reform his top priority after the fiscal cliff. He wants a path to citizenship for undocumented workers and a wholesale reworking of the system such that illegal immigration is no longer attractive to foreigners.
Norquist, who runs the anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform, is all for it.
“We are the pro-immigrant party, not the anti-immigrant party,” Norquist said in a Friday meeting with National Journal reporters. “And the conservative free market movement, the religious right people, the business guys, the law enforcement guys, we all want more legal immigration. So it’s sound, right of center. It’s Ronald Reagan.”
Norquist has long been arguing that immigration is a net positive for Republicans. During the Bush administration, he echoed the statements of senior White House advisor Karl Rove that the Hispanic community would be alienated if Republicans continued to say no to a more open system. They were right. The Hispanic vote tilted 71 percent for Obama even though many of those voters are conservative in other respects. Now, other conservatives are starting to listen--namely talk show hosts.
“This is where we should have been all the time. We are washing our face, and it’s the same face and it got dirty. You’re not changing the face. You’re washing the stuff off that didn’t belong there,” Norquist said. A main barrier in the last five years has been conservative radio talk show hosts. As they rapidly change their tune, he predicted, so will the rest of the Republican party. (Talk show host Sean Hannity and conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer both have embraced legalization for illegal immigrants since the election.)
Republicans' willingness to tackle immigration "is not in reaction to losing a presidential election,” Norquist insisted. Individual factions of the Republican party have been for this all along—Catholics, Mormons, evangelicals, the business community, libertarians. Now, with hardliner talk show hosts letting up on the issue, these groups are speaking up with a louder microphone.
Ironically, the chances of actually getting a deal on immigration in Congress are much higher now that Obama has won the election, Norquist said. If Romney had won, there would be no reason for Republicans to look in the mirror and see a dirty face. How, he said, the progress on the issue “is going to move a lot faster than you thought.”
And by the way, he says he now loves Lou Dobbs.