Tom Ridge: On immigration, Obama oversteps and Republicans miss an opportunity

// // in Company, Politics


(The Patriot-News, Nov. 23) – Watching President Barack Obama’s immigration speech – invoking executive powers fitting of a leader from a bygone era – I thought for a moment he was channeling Cecil B. DeMille.


You remember that famous scene from The Ten Commandments? The one where Yul Brynner’s Egyptian pharaoh proclaims, “So let it be written. So let it be done?”


I thought we Americans decided to drop the ‘king thing’ a few centuries ago (and pharaohs just a few years before that).


Yet there was our President, quoting scripture reminiscent of a Hollywood blockbuster while once again ignoring the separation of powers – despite a résumé showing him to have been a constitutional lawyer.


As troubling as is our President’s disregard for the constitution, his actions on immigration underscore an even larger problem for my Republican Party. I am often asked whom I will be backing for president in 2016. My answer remains, we need to focus less on the messenger and more on the message.


And with immigration, Republicans have yet again missed a critical messaging opportunity by not leading on a comprehensive immigration-reform package. Most polls I’ve seen say Americans don’t like the use of broad executive orders. But it doesn’t mean they won’t accept a well-crafted immigration-reform package.


It was not at all surprising that President Obama traveled to a Las Vegas community with a large Hispanic population to sign his executive order.


Not long ago, the Republican Party was welcoming to Hispanics. That has largely changed in recent years because of missed opportunities such as this one.


Many pundits have credited our nation’s growing Hispanic population with helping the President to win re-election in 2012.


If Republicans cannot do better with the Hispanic vote in two years, winning back the White House will be that much more difficult.


By digging in their heels and refusing to negotiate a bi-partisan immigration package, Republicans in Congress have essentially told Hispanic voters this is not a priority and have now allowed the President to lead, albeit in a misguided direction.


The fact is the blanket condemnation of illegal immigrants and the failure to find a way to at least legitimize the status of those who have been law abiding since their arrival is wrong and a grave political mistake.


And it leaves me concerned about the Republican Party’s brand, our message and our future.


In order to govern, Republicans must win national elections. To do so the narcissists and ideologues within our party need to understand that Americans are looking for real not rhetorical solutions to problems such as immigration.


They are not attracted to a party that projects an unacceptable rigidity and self-righteousness on social issues, and spends more time and energy objecting to bad law rather than proposing alternatives.


If we are to win in 2016, we will win because we worked together. Right now, we seem more focused on the messenger – rather than the message. But if we look back at the icons of the Republican Party, each one had a vision.


Lincoln’s was emancipation. Teddy Roosevelt’s was an environment and economy preserved for future generations. Reagan’s was cut taxes and ‘tear down that wall’.


What will be our message of the 2016 election? And will that message appeal to a broad array of voters? Or will it be a message that seeks to prey on our differences and fears, rather than our shared goals?


Those are the questions that require my Party’s full attention and the lessons from this immigration debacle.


Tom Ridge, the first U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security and the 43rd Governor of Pennsylvania, is the CEO of Ridge Global in Washington, DC. 


Full article may be found HERE.