Since the 1990s, Conway had conducted polling for the Center for Immigration Studies, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, and NumbersUSA, all of which advocate for reducing immigration levels. The Southern Poverty Law Center refers to the troika as “the nativist lobby”—an accusation the groups strongly dispute. Though many in the D.C. consultant class consider these groups too radioactive to work with, they have formidable grassroots support across the country.
As a pundit, too, Conway had long argued that Republicans could win votes with a hard line on immigration. In a 2006 blog post at National Review Online, for example, Conway wrote that immigration was “a dominant issue on talk radio and around kitchen tables in many areas” that was “all but ignored by both political parties.” Her polling, she wrote, found overwhelming support for a policy of “tighter border security and stricter enforcement of current immigration laws to encourage illegal immigrants to go home over time”—essentially, self-deportation.
Fast-forward to August 2014. Just two months after signing onto the Zuckerberg group’s Republicans-must-reform-or-perish memo, Conway came out with a new poll that seemed to make the opposite argument. There was, she wrote, “strong consensus on many populist immigration policies,” including enforcing current immigration law, limiting illegal immigrants’ access to welfare and work, and reducing legal immigrants’ ability to bring family members to the United States.
The issue, she wrote, should be framed in terms of “America First,” and as a matter of “fairness … to blue-collar workers.” Three-quarters of likely voters, she pointed out, wanted more enforcement of current immigration laws. (Most economists agree that low-skilled immigration displaces some native-born workers while improving the economy and creating more net jobs overall. And while majorities of voters of both parties consistently oppose deporting the undocumented en masse, majorities generally also oppose increasing the number of legal immigrants.)