David Brooks: What happened to the open-borders Rudy I used to know and love?

The NYT’s resident “conservative” mourns his loss.

Just last year, I saw him passionately deliver remarks at the Manhattan Institute Hamilton Award Dinner in which he condemned the “punitive approach” to immigration, “which is reflected in the House legislation that was passed, which is to make it a crime to be an illegal or undocumented immigrant.”

To “deal with it in a punitive way,” he said then, “is actually going to make us considerably less secure than we already are.” The better approach, he continued, is to embrace the Senate’s comprehensive reform and to separate the criminal illegals from the hard-working ones…

At the moment, Giuliani and fellow moderate Mitt Romney are attacking each other for being insufficiently Tancredo-esque. They are not renouncing the policies they championed as city and state officials, but the emphasis as they run for federal office is all in the other direction. In effect, they are competing to drive away Hispanic votes and make the party unelectable in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Florida and the nation at large.

In this way, they are participating in the greatest blown opportunity in recent political history. At its current nadir, the G.O.P. had been blessed with five heterodox presidential candidates who had the potential to modernize the party on a variety of fronts. They could be competing to do that, but instead they are competing to appeal to the narrowest slice of the old guard and flatter the most rigid orthodoxies of the Beltway interest groups. Giuliani could have opened the party to the armies of dynamism — the sort of hard-working strivers who live in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx; instead he has shelved one of his core convictions.

Evidently “the narrowest slice of the old guard” and “Beltway interest groups” are now synonyms for “most of the Republican base.” And maybe for more than that: it takes more than just conservative voters to reach 77% opposition to Spitzer’s illegal licenses plan. As for his smug equation of amnesty with modernization, a rhetorical flourish usually reserved for liberals or other “enlightened” print-media conservative journalists, how far left would Brooks tack on other issues in the interests of expanding the party’s base? Should we abandon the war, too? Take a more “nuanced” approach on abortion? Open-borders conservatives constantly push this line of softening the party’s position in the interests of electability — a fear which may be overblown — but they never offer any limiting principle. Perhaps the geniuses who almost blew the lid off Hot Air’s attack ads might be willing to draw up a list. Simply identify each major policy issue, propose how much more liberal of an approach the GOP should take, and then guesstimate the number of new voters we’d gain from it. I bet if we adopt the entire Democratic platform we can make a real race of it before next year.

Meanwhile, Joel Stein shares a taco with Tom Tancredo and proclaims the man free of racism, but brimming with nationalism and xenophobia. Exit quotation: “I never liked someone I disagreed with so strongly.”