Amid the utter craziness that was the 2012 Republican primary debates (even Mitt Romney called the entire process “nuts”), the candidates seemed to have some kind of contest going–aside from vying for the presidential nomination. Who could pay the most homage to Ronald Reagan? At one debate, Newt Gingrich mentioned Reagan 55 times, followed by Rick Santorum with 15, and Michele Bachmann with 8. Only Gary Johnson’s speaking time was devoid of nods to Reagan (and in fairness, he got very little speaking time).
While that was going on, it was tough to ignore the fact that Reagan’s positions would have put him at odds with the far-right positions of most of the candidates. In contrast to the GOP candidates, Reagan was not only open to raising taxes, he did so more than once. Somewhere between Reagan’s time in office and the 2012 primary, even talk of compromise became a sign of weakness.
While many people do see the dramatic shift to the right taken by the Republican Party since Reagan was in Office, it’s not often that you hear someone blame President Reagan for the election of President Obama. But now you have, thanks to Iowa Congressman Steve King.
For King, the road to President Obama’s election began in 1986, when President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which granted amnesty to many immigrants who arrived in the United States prior to 1982. In King’s estimation, the influx of new citizens gave rise to the current generation of Latino voters…in other words, more people who voted for Obama.
“There is something like 15 million people in this country, not just counting deaths and those that might have gone back, that were the beneficiaries of the 1986 Amnesty Act,” he said at a hearing with the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. “I’d just pose this question. Does anybody think that Barack Obama would be president today if the 1986 Amnesty Act had not become law?”
There’s no question that something went wrong for Republicans in the 2012 election regarding, but not limited to, Latino voters. President Obama netted 71% of the Latino vote compared to Romney’s 27%. Pinning the blame on Ronald Reagan however, is really quite the stretch.
Consider the obstacles to Latino support demonstrated by Congressman King himself. He’s compared selecting the best immigrants to the process of choosing a dog, and relentlessly advocated for an “English only” bill.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have shown a commitment to comprehensive immigration reform, largely because of the demographic shift we’ve seen in recent generations. In the interim though, it seems like Republicans can count on Steve King to keep on keeping on when it comes to alienating an increasingly significant portion of the electorate.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article referred to Congressman King’s comparison between dogs and immigrants as one related to undocumented immigrants. This has been corrected.