Former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour, urging his party to reach out to minorities, called for changes to U.S. immigration laws, including a path to citizenship for undocumented people.
“How do you vote for somebody who wants to make your grandmama leave?” Barbour said, referring to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s call during last year’s campaign for undocumented immigrants to “self-deport.”
“We have to come up with a better campaign in 2016,” Barbour said on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt,” airing this weekend. “We’ve got to face up to some demographic issues.”
Other Republicans have opposed what U.S. Representative Lamar Smith of Texas termed “mass amnesty for illegal immigrants.” Some have said the only steps needed to address the issue are expanding visas for high-technology workers and more border control.
Barbour, a onetime Mississippi governor, said he saw “very little” common ground for Republicans in President Barack Obama’s Jan. 21 inaugural address, saying it “accented the polarization that we have in the American political system.”
Barbour said hostility to the Republican position on immigration helped Obama do 11 percentage points better in the election than Romney among women voters of all ethnic and racial groups, according to a CNN exit poll.
That edge can be attributed in large part to the support he received from Hispanics, Barbour said.
“These women were affected more by the perception that we were not welcoming to Hispanics,” Barbour said.
He also said Republicans need to advocate policies for economic growth and job creation. “And then we need to go and sell that, to tell people, ‘Here’s what we’re for, here’s why we’re for it, here’s why we think it’ll help you and your community and your hometown,’” he said.
Barbour, 65, said that along those lines, it was good business to allow many of the illegal immigrants in the U.S. to stay.
“If we will follow what’s good economic policy, we will recognize that we are in a global battle for capital and for labor,” Barbour said. “We need the labor, not just H-1B visas for PhDs and engineering from India, but also we need agricultural labor.”
He said undocumented workers who have paid taxes and have a job should be allowed to stay under a guest-worker program, and then be offered a path to citizenship.
“I mean, even if you want to, you couldn’t send them back,” he said.
Saying that “every generation of Americans is more tolerant,” Barbour said Republicans should welcome supporters of same-sex marriage even as he personally believes the institution should be reserved for one man and one woman.
“I believe other people have every right in the world to have a different opinion, and they’re just as good of people and just as good of Republicans as I am,” he said.
Obama, 51, mentioned gay rights in the same context as women’s rights and civil rights in his inaugural address, which Barbour criticized for what the speech didn’t mention.
“When it came down to talking about the budget, he essentially said, ‘Yeah, we ought to reduce the deficit, but -- and here we’re going to spend this money and spend this money and spend this money and spend this money,’” Barbour said.
He said he opposed efforts by some Republicans in states won by Obama in 2012 to change the way electoral votes are rewarded, allocating them by congressional district rather than entirely by statewide results.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” he said. “I don’t think anybody can predict with any form of precision who it’ll help from this election to the next.”