Second Thoughts on the Future

Are Republicans deciding they don’t want to do immigration reform after all?

Party elites speak through the traditional media while party bases register their opinions through voting and giving. This applies equally on both sides of the partisan divide. And I should add that I use ‘elite’ in this case not in a pejorative but purely in a prescriptive sense. That’s made it difficult to get a proper read on just where we are on the immigration reform debate and a host of other issues on which Republicans seemed inclined to move on after the November defeat.

But I’m sensing a shift.For months, the key fact for understanding the immigration debate has been that if it doesn’t happen it’s a catastrophe for the GOP. So Republican demands or threats to shut the whole thing down have all the political force of someone putting a gun to their own head and threatening to shoot. Despite the occasional claims from the right that the President wants a campaign issue in 2014 rather than a bill, I have not spoken to anyone in a position to act or know who thinks this is true. The Democrats and the White House really, really want a bill passed. The truth is they get the political bump regardless.

But it’s only in the last couple weeks that I’ve heard Republicans doubting the premise that they need immigration reform to pass. And it’s mainly come in the form of something like this. ‘They’ll vote for the Democrats by big margins regardless. So blocking reform or letting it die is no big loss, especially when pushing it will turn off our most loyal voters.’

Others point to Republican Senators from states with sizable Hispanic populations who weren’t hurt very badly when immigration reform went down during the Bush years.

There is some truth to the first point. But it’s still amazingly delusional thinking.

It’s highly likely that Hispanics will continue supporting Democrats by substantial majorities whether or not immigration reform passes. You don’t get that much credit signing on to something that you pretty clearly weren’t particularly for. Just ask all those Democrats who voted for the Iraq war in 2002. But that’s not really the question. There’s a big difference between years of Democrats getting 60/40 margins and years of getting 80/20 margins.

I have little doubt the basic premise is still valid. The risks of blocking reform are profound. But not a few Republicans are starting to doubt that. And if that doubt grows as the 2012 election recedes into memory, that will cast a big shadow over our politics going forward.

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