Old vaudeville joke:
Man goes to the doctor. Says he has a pain in his arm.
“Have you ever had this problem before?” the doctor says.
“Yes,” the man answers.
“Well, you got it again.”
Now look at the Republicans’ immigration problem. Have they had this problem before? Yes. Well, they’ve got it again.
Republicans had an immigration problem nearly 100 years ago. A huge wave of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe – Poles, Hungarians, Italians, Jews – came to this country during the first two decades of the 20th century, before strict national quotas were imposed in 1924. These immigrants were largely Catholic and Jewish.
Republicans were the party of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant establishment. The GOP did little to reach out to immigrants, except to try to “Americanize” them and “reform” them (the temperance movement).
Democrats then, as now, were the party of out-groups. The Democratic Party had a long history of accommodating immigrants, going back to the Irish in the 19th century. Municipal jobs (like policemen) were some of the only opportunities available to the Irish, and they were heavily recruited by big-city Democratic political machines that controlled patronage.
The breakthrough came in 1928 when Democrats nominated New York Governor Al Smith for president – the nation’s first Roman Catholic presidential nominee. Anti-Catholic prejudice helped to doom Smith’s candidacy. But his nomination drew millions of immigrant voters to the Democratic Party.