It must have happened before. But I can’t think of another example of politics quite as weirdly comic as that developing around immigration reform. At least in recent years, the normal model is that both sides profess optimism and good will about finding a compromise when, in fact, they are either far apart on policy or simply don’t want to agree at all — usually both.
But here it’s just the opposite. Both sides want a bill. They actually want the same bill — or at least they’ve both signed on to the same bill. But there’s the problem, a political problem. Establishment Republicans feel they must support the immigration bill the President supports. But they need to convince the base of their party that they fought him like crazy to get it passed. That’s a challenge.
So we’re now treated to the spectacle of Senators like Marco Rubio and others straining to find some big point of disagreement with the president to pivot off of even though it’s almost impossible to find something to disagree about. Yes, there are some points of divergence. But they are all the sorts of minor differences — not ones of principle — that are easy to accomodate when there’s any interest in doing so.
The most generous interpretation of this dance is that the President is a highly polarizing figure and Republicans, eager for a deal, don’t want him to inject himself into the debate and add a needless obstacle, making what Republican constituents might be willing to accept into ‘Obama’s bill’ and thus beyond the pale.
But that explanation just doesn’t work.
The reality is that the gap between the political needs of establishment Republicans (to better position the national party, to cue up presidential ambitions) and the policy views of the base of the party is just too wide. One view is that Rubio and his Senate colleagues will find some point of quibble to scuttle the legislation, thus satisfying their base and signaling to Hispanic voters their interest in the issue. But the reality is that establishment Republicans actually need the legislation. Their credibility on the issue is so low that any failure will inevitably be blamed on them.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.