To help out my fellow early-state voters, I’ve prepared a form letter for you to send to your favorite candidates. No thanks are necessary.
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Dear [candidate name]:
First of all, let me say that I’m a big fan of your [soaring rhetoric/personal narrative/incredible hair], and I think that your record as [governor of a large state/US Senator/talk-show guest] makes you well-qualified to be the next President of the United States. Welcome to the race!
I do have certain concerns, though, about where the race could go if cooler heads don’t prevail. I’m concerned about how we as Republicans are talking about immigration.
If you trust the columnists and sideline reporters on the issue, the Republican “base” is pretty far to the right on immigration issues — if you define “right-wing” as being in favor of closing the borders, installing a huge fence to keep everyone out, and deporting anyone whose family arrived after the Mayflower.
But that’s not where the Republican base is at all. The fact is that the overwhelming majority of active Republican voters favor reforming the system instead of the angry isolationist route — by a margin of 4-to-1. The base is not anti-immigration at all.
It’s up to you to campaign according to the facts as they are, not how the pundits imagine them to be. Appealing to the extremes on immigration will make you popular in a couple of limited crowds, but it won’t win you the nomination and it won’t put you in the White House.
Just ask Katie Packer Gage, Mitt Romney’s former deputy campaign manager. In a recent opinion editorial published in Politico Magazine, Packer Gage said during the 2012 election she “saw first-hand how the rhetoric on immigration during the GOP primary, from all of the candidates, painted our party in a negative light and came back to bite us in the general election.”
Packer Gage continued by issuing a warning to candidates in 2016, saying “with such a crowded field, these candidates will be fighting to distinguish themselves from one another. But overly harsh talk on immigration will allow Democrats to paint our party, and our nominee, as anti-Hispanic once again.”
According to recent polling released by Packer Gage’s firm, Burning Glass Consulting, and the Partnership for a New American Economy, 53 percent of likely voters in the general election say they would penalize a candidate they perceived as anti-immigration. And among key swing voters, like those under age 35, the costs are even greater. You do not want to lose the general election because of dumb things that were said during the run to the nomination — especially if saying those things isn’t going to help you with the vast majority of Republican voters anyway.
So whether you are successful in your quest for the nomination or end up [returning to the Senate/getting a Cabinet post/contemplating a life of quiet solitude], remember to bring your most thoughtful “A” game to the immigration discussion.
Nobody said we all have to agree on the subject, but Republican primary voters — and the swing voters who will decide the general election — want to hear that you’ve put some real thought into a plan.
We can talk about pathways to legal status or even citizenship, we can talk about paying penalties and going to the back of the line, and we can talk about improving border security. But the vast majority of voters will reject you (and our party) if it only sounds like you’re doing nothing but regurgitating angry slogans.
There’s a lot riding on the 2016 election. If we don’t want to end up in a [pantsuit plutocracy/Sanders socialist state/Elizabeth Warren dream scenario], then we need every Republican to step up to the big issues with thoughtfulness and respect for the intelligence of the voters.
[With respect/In the spirit of Reagan/Hug your campaign manager for me],
[Your name here]
Much-sought-after early-state voter
Jeff Angelo is a former Iowa State Senator, frequent radio and TV personality and GOP activist.