The False Promise of Restrictionism

Dave Weigel has a solid column out on the trajectory of the Ron Paul revolution, highlighting the ultimate failure of Paul's decision to run as more of an immigration-hating paleocon than a government-limiting libertarian:
When Paul did talk, he focused on the idea of radically limiting government—a message nowhere else to be found on either side of the aisle during this campaign. No other candidate was even questioning the wisdom of the Federal Reserve or the Department of Homeland Security; Paul vowed to abolish both. No other contender ran a commercial blasting the idea of a national ID card. Not coincidentally, nobody else was generating more than $6 million via single-day online “money bombs.”

But after a spike in fund raising and polling, Paul pivoted to the more crowded anti-immigration field, with mailers showing a work boot stomping on the Constitution and the legend: “Illegal immigrants flaunt [sic] our laws.”

This lunge for the Minuteman vote didn’t work. According to exit polls, Paul won only 8 percent of Republican voters who want to deport all illegal immigrants. That was 16 points less than immigration compromiser John McCain, six less than amnesty waffler Mike Huckabee, and even one point less than “sanctuary city” mayor Rudy Giuliani. Paul finished a poor fifth among voters who cared about immigration but came in a strong second place among voters angry at the Bush administration. In other words, he came in second among his natural constituency and fared poorly on an issue every candidate was already scrapping over.

Time and again, I think you see that the issue of immigrant- and immigration-bashing just doesn't carry the political force that its advocates are constantly claiming and that all-too-many of its opponents seem to fear. I recall when it started to seem like maybe Mike Huckabee could be a serious contender and he, notwithstanding a sensible record on immigration, decided to go hire hard-core restrictionist Jim Pinkerton. Just before going to work for Huckabee, Pinkerton was going around Washington talking about how despite Iraq and the economy, immigration was going to deliver the election to the GOP. It turned out that restrictionism couldn't even win a Republican primary.

Photo by Flickr user Jayel Aheram used under a Creative Commons license