[Editor’s note: On Saturday, delegates to the Republican Party of Texas convention replaced the party platform’s rhetoric on unauthorized immigration with more hardline language. The previous platform called for a guest worker program; the new one doesn’t mention that, but it does call for an end to sanctuary cities and in-state tuition for certain unauthorized students. The change marks a departure from Texas’s relatively temperate approach to the subject–an ominous departure, according to many observers. Among them is Jason Villalba, a Republican state representative from Dallas, who wrote the following open letter in response. — Erica Grieder]
Dear Fellow Reagan Republicans,
I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to discuss with me the future of our Party. I know how busy life can be these days with the kids’ soccer games, PTA meetings, church and work obligations. Nevertheless, we sorely missed you at the ballot box this primary election cycle. As you may have heard, only about 10% of registered voters in Texas turned out to vote in this year’s Republican primaries, in March—a figure that dropped by nearly half in the runoffs last month. As a result, 5.5% of voters have been given 100% of the authority to determine what our Republican Party looks like and stands for.
Like you, I became a Republican when it stood for something special – even aspirational. Ronald Reagan spoke about America as “the shining city on the hill,” where hard work and self-reliance would be rewarded because America was the welcoming land of opportunity. He was a powerful communicator, focusing on what was possible, rather than solely on what was wrong. He derived his energy from vision and optimism, rather than anger and divisiveness. That’s the kind of Republicans we are – focused on solutions and determined to make our communities better places to raise our families.
The advantages of this approach were clear on issues like illegal immigration: even though Reagan and other like-minded Republicans placed their primary focus on the search for answers, they were able to acknowledge the complexity of the issue. I don’t agree entirely with the policies Reagan advanced in the immigration reform he signed in 1986, but as a Reagan Republican, I look to his example for leadership on how to approach our current illegal immigration problem. Perhaps we could craft a solution that both respects the dignity of those seeking the American Dream and vigorously protects our borders. Reagan did not find these two aspirations to be mutually exclusive.
I’m afraid however, that the 5.5% have determined that they are.
At the Republican Party of Texas Convention, held this weekend in Fort Worth, delegates adopted a “deport them all” strategy that compares human beings to foreign invaders and precludes any remedy for unauthorized immigrants who are already here – even remedies that do NOT include a path to citizenship—in the name of border security. To be clear, I am adamantly opposed to blanket amnesty, and adamantly in favor of border security. But I do not believe it is good policy, or even feasible, to have the government detain eleven million residents and send them all back to their country of origin, and such a large-scale deportation effort would surely tie up resources that could be used to secure the border more effectively. Divisive rhetoric and nativist domestic policy might excite the 5.5%, but the remaining 95% of us understand that we have to do something thoughtful and pragmatic about this complex issue.
And, from a purely political perspective, it is clear to me that if we seek to win the future Hispanic vote, we should at least be cordial to our neighbors from the south. Hispanics are the fastest growing demographic in Texas. They will comprise a majority of the voting-eligible population of Texas in just over two decades. If, because of the rigid and regressive policy positions of the 5.5%, we are unable to win a significant proportion of the future Hispanic vote, our Grand Old Party is only a few election cycles away from perishing in Texas.
I love the Republican Party with every fiber in my being. I’ve been a Republican since I was seven years old. I am a committed Reagan conservative and will fight for the principles he stood for: smaller government, lower taxes, self–reliance, life, faith, family and freedom. But unless you and I join together, this small but determined group, the 5.5%, will take over our Party, forever dismantling the big tent that Reagan was so proud of.
What did Reagan say about those, like the 5.5%, who insist that Republicans are defined by their allegiance to a narrow set of policy positions, rather than by their principles? See for yourself:
“Such a party can be highly disciplined, but it does not win elections. This kind of party soon disappears in a blaze of glorious defeat, and it never puts into practice its basic tenets, no matter how noble they may be.”
I humbly plead with you to join me in this fight to take back our Republican Party. Together, we can do this. If we are to prevail, you must return to the polls. Without you, we are finished. Fellow Reagan Republicans, you are our last line of defense. Now, more than ever before in our history, our Grand Old Party is depending on you for its very survival.