Mississippi may have had little to do with national election results, but could have great impact on the future of the Republican Party.
That impact may come from former Governor Haley Barbour in concert with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Both heavyweight Republican leaders are outspoken on the need for the GOP to adopt a pragmatic immigration policy before it’s too late.
Or it may come from Governor Phil Bryant, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, and other Republican governors who have taken hard line immigration positions popular with grassroots Republicans.
Just two days after Republican suffered unexpected losses for targeted Senate seats and the presidency, Barbour championed immigration reform on NBC’s Today show.
“We need to have an immigration policy that is good economic policy,” Barbour said. “Then the politics will take care of itself.
“Good policy on immigration in the United States is we are in a global battle for capital and labor and we not only need Ph.Ds in science and technology, we need skilled workers and we need unskilled workers.”
Bush likewise believes immigration reform would be good economic policy. But, he emphasizes that Republicans first need to change their tone on the issue.
“Change the tone would be the first thing,” Bush told a New York audience. “Second I think we need to have a broader approach” making the issue “an economic issue as much as it is a question of the rule of law.”
Both have cited Ronald Reagan.
“My old boss Ronald Reagan used to say, ‘At the end of the day good policy is good politics,’” said Barbour.
“If Reagan were alive he would seek ‘some degree of common ground’ with Democrats to find solutions and would not fan the flames of hostility so that cooperation becomes impossible,” Bush said.
This new emphasis on immigration reform comes after the Latino vote made a critical difference in election results. Population trends show the Latino vote will only increase over time. Over the past decade, this population segment grew 43% nationally while the non-Hispanic white population grew one percent.
Democrats have been successful in recent elections by gaining high margins among Latino voters, African-American voters, and women voters. As minority voter population proportions grow, Republicans must find a way to tap into these voting groups to remain competitive.
Pragmatic leaders believe the most promising opportunity for Republicans is with Latino voters who tend to be pro-family, social conservatives. As seen during the last legislative session, many businesses in Mississippi agree. But, polls and election results show Latinos turned off and away by GOP vitriol on immigration reform.
The looming battle between the pragmatic politics of Barbour and Bush and the popular politics of Bryant and Bentley will impact the Republican Party’s future competitiveness.