Despite the fact that Eric Cantor didn’t lose his Majority Leader seat over immigration, his primary defeat will likely be viewed by historians as the moment when the GOP reversed it’s flirtation with becoming a pro-immigration party and shifted back to it’s more comfortable hard line immigration positions. That shift became more pronounced when the child refugee crisis at the Southwest border dominated the news in July and was cemented when the House voted just before the August recess to kill the DACA program.
Behind the scenes last spring, many GOP insiders were preparing for a grand compromise that managed to satisfy many House members’ objections to the Senate approach. Now, not only is immigration reform not going to get a vote in the House – in a piecemeal, comprehensive or any other fashion – but House members are about to be put in the position of having to attack the President’s coming executive action that will no doubt be hugely popular with Latino Americans.
This macro story has been told enough in the media that it should be news to no one who reads this blog. But over the past few days, a number of Republicans who have either sponsored pro-immigration bills or have made a name for themselves as promoting Republican moderation on immigration have made news for staking out new tougher immigration positions.
These include Marco Rubio, John McCain. Rand Paul, and Paul Ryan. That three of these – Rubio, Paul an Ryan – may be running for President is surprising as each has to defend their flip-flopping on the issue. How any of them think they’ll be able to outperform Mitt Romney while repeating Romney’s alienating the country’s Latino voters is a mystery.
One of the few presidential contenders who seems to have stuck to his pro-immigrant positions is Jeb Bush. He recently called for the Central American refugee children with “compassion” and not to rush to deport them. He has not called for letting all the children stay, but at least has reminded his fellow Republicans that we have asylum laws and need to allow the children who qualify to have a chance to apply. Regarding presidential executive action, Bush didn’t come out in support of the move, but instead used it to remind Republicans that they could and should avoid such action by the President by passing comprehensive immigration reform. He’s one of the few Republicans still using the “c” word.
And if Bush sticks to his position, I would suggest that he’ll remain a viable presidential candidate. His moderate views, in general, could mean he never makes it out of the primaries and the anti-immigration reputation of his party could still sink him with Latino voters in the general election. But I don’t see any candidate who has a poor immigration record as having any chance of winning more states than Mitt Romney as 2016 will have about a million additional Latino voters than 2012 (which had a million more than in 2008). And if the Democrats delivered on immigration at least via executive action, Republicans are even less likely to improve on Romney’s dismal 27% of the Latino vote.
As for 2014, there is lots of talk regarding how executive action would affect the election that’s now just over two months away. The Democrats are already facing an uphill battle keeping the Senate given the large number of seats they are defending compared to Republicans. The most vulnerable Democrats are in states that traditionally vote Republican in presidential elections and some of those Senators are trying to insulate themselves from attack by going on the record opposing any unilateral move by the White House. There’s no evidence yet that executive action would shift any of these races significantly, but if the President already is working under the assumption he’ll have a Republican Senate to work with over the next two years (the Republicans will have the same problem defending a large number of seats in 2016 that Democrats have this year), then he may see this as part of his legacy and not be as worried about short-term political consequences.