Jason DeParle has a must-read piece — Star of the right loses base at border — in today’s NY Times. In his story DeParle writes about RSC Chairman Mike Pence, his conservative bona fides and the potential for Pence to lose support amongst the conservative base because of his efforts to advance a compromise proposal on the immigration issue.
First, Pence’s undeniable conservative street cred:
“I’m a conservative, but I’m not mad about it,” he often says.
Arriving in Washington, he was dismayed at conservatives’ support for government expansion. In 2001, he was one of 34 Republicans to oppose the No Child Left Behind Act, which expanded federal involvement in education. In 2003, he was one of 25 who opposed the Medicare drug benefit. “I was voting against big conservative government before it was cool,” he said.
Congressional leaders hinted at reprisals, but the base applauded, especially after a 2004 speech in which he warned that the movement was drifting into “the dangerous and uncharted waters of big government.”
Among those won over was Paul Weyrich, a fixture of movement conservatism. He said Mr. Pence had strong appeal among supporters of four major conservative causes: limited government, free enterprise, strong defense and traditional values.
“Nobody is perfect, but he comes pretty close,” Mr. Weyrich said. “He is what I’ve been waiting for in terms of leadership.”
…His influence was apparent last fall after Hurricane Katrina, when Washington was suddenly filled with talk of new aid for the needy. Concerned about the cost, Mr. Pence’s group replied with Operation Offset, a plan to cut $500 billion over 10 years in programs that included Medicaid, tax credits for the poor, and care for people with AIDS.
It outraged the leadership, which accused him of showboating, and failed to pass. But it quickly changed the political dynamics, from starting programs to cutting them. Five months later, with Mr. Pence nearby, President Bush signed a bill that cut $39 billion over five years. “I think Operation Offset had something to do with that, though I would never boast of that,” Mr. Pence said.
Edwin J. Feulner Jr., president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington group, said Mr. Pence “has really been central to the revival of principled conservatism in the House.” Admirers have already begun a “Mike Pence for President” Web site.
Now, Pence’s — according to some on the right — unforgivable sin:
When Mr. Pence weighed in on immigration this spring, the issue, like much of the Republican agenda, was stalled and Republicans were deeply split. The House had passed a tough bill focusing on border security alone. The Senate had passed a broader measure that included a guest worker program and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here.
Mr. Pence tried to offer something to everyone. He included provisions to bolster the borders. After two years, if the government certified that those changes were in place, a guest worker program would begin. Those here unlawfully would have to leave the country and apply at job-placement centers. By requiring re-entry, Mr. Pence argues, the plan avoids amnesty and respects the rule of law. The guest worker visas could be renewed, with a chance of citizenship after 17 years.
The article goes on to note that Team America, a Bay Buchanan and Tom Tancredo operation dedicated to securing the borders and fixing the illegal immigration problem has furthered their hardball tactics against Pence by creating a “Pence Watch” on their website.
This is the same group who attacked Pence after he announced his proposal as a “former conservative hero.” That attack prompted some to challenge Tancredo on his my-way-or-the-highway approach to immigration reform.
I think I have been pretty clear regarding my thoughts on this issue. Bottom line: conservatives who would throw one of their most promising young up and coming leaders overboard because of a disagreement on this issue are shortsighted at best.
Stop the madness.
The middle of the road may get a conservative run over
Compromise may hurt Pence
Colson backs Pence compromise
Details of Pence-Hutchison bill
Compromise plan in the editorials