Immigration Reform and Election 2008
Glenn Reynolds sees the possibility of a third party presidential win in 2008 being created by the current debate over immigration.
Just as Republicans are caught between their business-oriented constituencies (who want cheap labor that doesn’t talk back) and their grassroots constituencies (who don’t like illegal immigration), so too are the Democrats caught between two constituencies of their own.
The more I think about it, the more this looks like fertile ground for a third party to emerge. Who will it hurt more? The Republicans, or the Democrats? I’m not sure. Perhaps it will shake things up in general.
Stephen Green thinks he knows the answer:
If we have a strong, third-party presidential candidate in 2008, running on a “Secure Borders” platform, then the Republicans are screwed. Screwed like a non-union lettuce picker with dusky skin.
Latinos, legal or otherwise, are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans. Fair or not, a Secure Borders campaign would likely be interpreted as “Screw the Mexicans! And Puerto Ricans! And you other darker people who didn’t come over on the Mayflower!” A Secure Borders third-party candidate, in other words, could undo two decades of Rovian efforts to get Latinos to vote Republican.
The unions might play Republican for once, but who cares? There aren’t that many Big Labor guys left anymore. Also, lots of them are already voting Republican when nobody is looking. Again, Republicans lose more votes than Democrats.
While there is a substantial yahoo element in both parties who would support a candidate who ran on a “build a wall and shoot anyone trying to climb it” platform, my strong guess (and hope) is that it is smaller than the Secure Borders crowd thinks.
Further, the problem with doing this analysis in a vacuum is that we can construct an ideal candidate who strips off the right elements from each party’s voting blocks. In reality, though, an actual candidate would have to run, who would alienate many of the people who might otherwise be attracted to a different perspective on immigration with some combination of controversial stands on other issues and a pricky personality.
As I’ve written more times than I can count, the institutional structure of our system simply does not favor third party candidates. The last time one pulled it off was 1860, when both the Whigs and Democrats split over slavery allowing Republican Abraham Lincoln to win in a four way race.
That dynamic is unlikely to repeat itself. Immigration, while controversial, is not nearly the hot button issue that slavery was. Indeed, the slavery fight had been festering for decades until the Dred Scott decision ended the Missouri Compromise and brought it to a head. Further, given that we now have popular primaries rather than party bosses choosing the nominees, candidates who match up well with public sentiments on the immigration issue–whatever they happen to be by the spring of 2008–are likely to be chosen.
More recently, we had a very popular third party candidate in Ross Perot in 1992. Before his candidacy imploded with bizarre allegations about Republican plots to disrupt his daughter’s wedding and a tacit endorsement of Bill Clinton, he struck a chord by addressing a number of popular concerns that the major parties had somehow ignored, notably balancing the budget. By 1994, Newt Gingrich and the Republicans had expropriated many of his ideas and Bill Clinton and the Democrats had run with others. When Perot ran again in 1996, he was saying the same thing everyone else did except nuttier.