Parsing the Republican platform


Delegates at the Republican National Convention are scheduled to vote Monday on a platform that, per recent tradition, presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney will freely ignore. After all, both parties’ platforms typically represent the beliefs of their activists, not necessarily the governing philosophy of those on the ballot. Democrats will surely focus on the most extreme planks in the new GOP platform, such as the one opposing abortion in virtually any circumstance. But we’re more intrigued by the breaks from the past on the topics of taxes and immigration.

A good illustration of the tension between activists and more election-focused party leaders is the language on immigration. The initial proposal drafted by party officials took a less aggressive stance than the GOP had in 2008, apparently with an eye toward improving its image among Latino voters. But pressed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a leading advocate of state crackdowns on illegal immigrants, the platform committee restored provisions calling for a fence along the entire border with Mexico, withholding federal funds from so-called sanctuary cities and denying in-state tuition rates to undocumented students.

At the same time, however, the committee agreed to a proposal from Texas businesses that offered a measure of support for a federal guest-worker program. It isn’t exactly a full-throated endorsement; the proposal merely says that a Republican administration and Congress “will consider, in light of both current needs and historic practice, the utility of a legal and reliable source of foreign labor through a new guest-worker program.” Still, it’s the first time the party’s platform has even hinted that it might approve of such a program, which could give illegal border-crossers a way to stay in the U.S. legitimately, albeit temporarily. That’s a small but notable step away from supporting only enforcement efforts.


COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: Presidential Election 2012

On taxes, the committee reiterated its support for lower rates and a simpler tax code. At the same time, it dropped a provision from the 2008 platform that called for retaining one tax break in particular: the deduction for home mortgage interest. This move was backed by representatives of the Romney campaign, while allies of real estate agents and the construction industry pressed the committee to reverse course. Ultimately, the committee agreed to call for preserving the deduction if tax-simplification efforts fail — a meaningless stance, considering that the deduction won’t be at risk if Congress doesn’t try to simplify the tax code.

The mortgage-interest plank hints that Romney is committed to a tax code overhaul, even if it means sacrificing one of the code’s most prized and widely used deductions. But then, it’s just a party platform. Its details mean a lot more now than they will if he’s elected.