This week freshman Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) penned an op-ed for The Post. In the vigorous rhetorical style he is known for, he laid out a framework for a revived conservative agenda: “Republicans ought to view, and explain, every policy through the lens of economic mobility. Conservative policies help those struggling to climb the economic ladder, and liberal policies hurt them. If Republicans want to win, we need to champion opportunity.”
He lists a number of items, including “fundamentally reform the tax code so that every American can file his taxes on a postcard. Eliminate the corporate welfare and complexity that enrich only accountants and lawyers.. . . explain how closed shops confiscate wages and make it harder for low-skilled workers to get jobs. . . . [and] advocate school choice to empower parents and expand opportunity for children struggling to get ahead.”
All of that is well-phrased and smart policy. But strangely missing is any mention of immigration reform. There is no better demonstration of the GOP’s commitment to upward mobility and support for the American dream than championing immigrants who by their very decision to come to a new country display entrepreneurial moxie. I will put aside the problem of illegal immigration for a moment. What about easing legal immigration, inducing highly educated foreign students to remain after graduation and replacing the visa lottery with a system that rewards merit?
Republicans belatedly are figuring out that defending the rich is not a persuasive political message, although defending policies that allow all Americans to prosper and shed dependency is. That message will appear more sincere and consistent if it also embraces the people who personify faith in the American dream — immigrants.
One other note: “Economic mobility” is an abstraction; people are real. Republicans must remember that the reason they favor economic mobility is because they care about the people it will help. Republicans recoil against the language of empathy because they imagine it goes hand-in-hand with the expansion of the welfare state. But that is conceding the playing field to the left. Republicans need to construct their own message of compassion tied to effective policy (not the fuzzy sanctimony of noble intentions) and apply it to real Americans in all walks of life. And yes, that will eventually entail treating illegal immigration with a mix of compassion and realism, acknowledging there is no way we are going to deport millions of people.
In the meantime, kudos to Cruz for introducing the topic. Now it is time to flesh out that message, ground it in real-life experiences and broaden its reach to include the newest Americans.