The far right assumes that Republicans can be defeated by hurling slogans, as if voters will recoil at the very thought a candidate is for “Amnesty!” or “Common Core!” In fact, what the far right calls “amnesty” — a comprehensive reform plan with a path to citizenship — is well received when its component parts are listed for voters. And as we saw from polling, Common Core, properly explained as national standards meant to raise students’ competitiveness, is viewed favorably by primary voters.
In Tuesday’s primaries, we saw these issues play out in action. Given that these are off-year GOP primary elections, one can assume that the electorate is about as conservative as one is going to find.
Immigration reform proponent Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) won her primary easily in a race focusing on immigration. As the Wall Street Journal reported, when given a number of options including deportation, guest worker status and earned citizenship, in a Fox News poll “68 percent of all respondents, and 60 percent of Republican respondents, chose the citizenship option—i.e., ‘amnesty.’ ” The report explained:
A 2013 Fox poll had a question with similar wording: “Do you favor or oppose allowing the 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the country to remain in the country and eventually—years down the road—qualify for U.S. citizenship, as long as they meet certain requirements like paying back taxes, learning English, and passing a background check?”
Again, 74 percent of all respondents, including two out of three Republicans (67 percent), favored letting illegal immigrants stay. In fact, Fox has been polling this question since at least 2011 without much change in the results. And Fox’s findings have been replicated by other polls over the years, which consistently show that a majority of GOP voters support comprehensive immigration reform.
The immigration views expressed by Renee Ellmers, Jeb Bush, John Boehner and others on the right may make them pariahs in the blogosphere, but it’s hard to argue that these politicians are out of step with rank-and-file Republican voters.
On the Common Core front, a Right Turn reader points out that state lawmakers who crusaded against Common Core lost badly on Tuesday. State representative Robert Behning (R-Ind.), a Common Core supporter, won his primary against an opponent who explicitly campaigned against the standards and other elements of education reform. In another race, Sen. James Merritt faced his first primary challenger in 24 years, Crystal Lamotte. Although Lamotte campaigned against Common Core, calling herself a “real conservative,” Merritt won. Likewise, in Ohio, Republican state Rep. Stephanie Kunze sailed past challenger Pat Manley, who voiced his opposition to Common Core on his campaign Web site and on Twitter. And we should keep in mind that Common Core has been adopted in states with popular GOP governors (e.g. Rick Scott in Florida, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Rick Snyder in Michigan, John Kasich in Ohio).
The lesson here is that sensible and articulate conservatives who can explain their position on issues such as immigration and Common Core do just fine with voters. The hot-button issues on right-wing blogs and on talk radio aren’t so hot when tested in actual campaigns or when you take a deep dive into poll numbers. The idea that a Senate or presidential candidate is going to flop simply because he supports immigration reform (e.g. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas or Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana) or Common Core (Jeb Bush) is highly suspect. If these candidates are to be, beaten it won’t be by hollering “Amnesty!” or “Common Core!” at them.