Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hispanic vote

A Lawless Presidency Will Destroy Itself

There is no longer any doubt that perhaps within a matter of days, the president will issue executive orders that grant amnesty to up to 5 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States. While the administration is hoping the discussion that ensues will still be about the merits of immigration reform, they should understand that the president’s decision to use his executive authority to treat law enforcement as a function of his personal whim is bound to change the debate to one about an assault on constitutional principles. This means that rather than debating what can be done to stop him in the short term (the correct answer is not much), observers should be pondering the long-term effects of this move on both the future of immigration reform and the fortunes of our two political parties. The answers to both of these questions may not bring much comfort to the president and his supporters.

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There is no longer any doubt that perhaps within a matter of days, the president will issue executive orders that grant amnesty to up to 5 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States. While the administration is hoping the discussion that ensues will still be about the merits of immigration reform, they should understand that the president’s decision to use his executive authority to treat law enforcement as a function of his personal whim is bound to change the debate to one about an assault on constitutional principles. This means that rather than debating what can be done to stop him in the short term (the correct answer is not much), observers should be pondering the long-term effects of this move on both the future of immigration reform and the fortunes of our two political parties. The answers to both of these questions may not bring much comfort to the president and his supporters.

The GOP-controlled Congress doesn’t appear to have legislative options that won’t involve funding measures that can be portrayed as a new government shutdown. Though it would take presidential vetoes to kick off such a confrontation, with the help of a still docile mainstream media (see Grubergate), Republican leaders understand that this is a political trap they need to avoid. However, what Democrats who assume the mass amnesty will transform the political landscape in their favor and doom Republicans to perpetual defeat are ignoring is that the executive orders will change the terms of the debate about this issue. Though there may be no way of rescinding these orders while Obama remains in office, the real political trap may be the one that the president’s arrogant assumption of unprecedented personal power may be setting for his party.

As for the justification for this action, the notion that the president must act because Congress has not done so is utterly unconvincing even for those who support the cause of immigration reform.

The presence of an estimated 11 million illegals within our borders is a problem that must eventually be dealt with in a sensible manner. Mass deportations are neither feasible nor desirable, especially with those targeted by the president’s orders that may have children or other family members who are either citizens or legal residents. It is also true that many Republicans that supported the bipartisan immigration compromise that passed the Senate last year signed on to a process that would have given illegals a path, albeit a difficult one, to citizenship.

However, the need to address the problem doesn’t justify the president’s stand.

A measure that is imposed outside of the law that is not directly tied to border security and a reform of a broken immigration system does not solve the problem. If anything, as we saw last summer, such measures only encourage more illegal immigration. That surge of illegals proved that critics of the bipartisan bill were right and those of us (including me) who supported it were wrong. The border must be secured first and then and only then will it be possible to start sorting out those who are still here without permission. That was the approach favored by many in the House of Representatives last year and a new attempt at a fix to the problem should start there rather than trying to resurrect the Senate bill as the president demands.

That is why the administration’s narrative about the executive orders is simply false. Far from the president stepping in to provide a solution where Congress failed, what he is doing is making the problem worse, not better.

Far worse is the manner in which he is doing it.

It is, strictly speaking, within the president’s lawful authority to direct agencies operating under him to exercise prosecutorial discretion. But to do so on a mass scale isn’t merely unprecedented. It breaks new ground in the expansion of executive authority. As much as the president thinks the current law is inadequate to deal with the problem of illegal immigration, it is not up to him to unilaterally legislate a new solution. Only Congress may re-write the laws of the land. The idea of a president acting unilaterally to invalidate existing statutes in such a way as to change the status of millions of persons, however sympathetic we may be to their plight, places Obama outside the law and blaming Congress for inaction does not absolve him.

Nor can it be justified as falling within the executive’s right to act in a crisis.

There are circumstances when, usually in wartime, a crisis looms and broad presidential discretion is unavoidable. But as much as advocates for the illegals may trumpet their plight, this is not a ticking bomb that requires the normal constitutional order to be set aside. If majorities in both the House and the Senate could not be found to support a measure the president deemed important, he had the normal recourse of going to the people and asking them to elect a Congress that will do so. Unfortunately for those who claim that the president has no choice but to bypass Congress, we have just undergone such an election and the people’s answer was a resounding rebuff to the White House. The president may think it is in his interest to pretend as if the midterms should not determine his behavior in his final two years in office but it was he who said his policies were on the ballot. While there was an argument prior to November 4 that claimed that it was the GOP-controlled House that was thwarting public opinion on immigration, that claim disappeared in the Republican sweep.

That brings us to the long-term political consequences of this act.

While much has been made of the impact of amnesty on the Hispanic vote, with these orders the president is digging Democrats a hole that they will have difficulty climbing out of in the next two years.

Hispanics may be grateful for the temporary end of the deportations but it will not escape their notice that in doing so the president has ended any chance of immigration reform for the rest of his term. Nor will they be unaware that a GOP successor will invalidate amnesty with a stroke of the pen as easily as the president has enacted them. Republicans will rightly understand that there is no dealing with an administration that would rather go outside the law than first negotiate in good faith with a newly elected Congress on immigration. Nor can they be blamed for thinking any deal based on promises on border enforcement will be worthless with a president who thinks he has the right to simply order non-enforcement of the laws he doesn’t like.

Even more to the point, the orders will create a backlash among the rest of the electorate that always results when presidents begin to run afoul of both the law and public opinion. A lawless presidency is something that is, by definition, dysfunctional, and that is a term that has already defined Obama’s second term up until this point. Democrats who are counting on wild applause from their base should understand that just as Republicans learned that domination by their Tea Party wing undermines their electoral viability, they too should be wary of governing from the left.

The spectacle of mass amnesty without benefit of law will shock ordinary voters, including many who are Democrats or who think the immigration system should have been fixed. After the orders, responsibility for the failure to do so will rest on Obama, not the Republicans. What the president may be doing with these orders is to remind the voters that parties that grow too comfortable with exercising authority without benefit of law must be taught a lesson, one that will be paid for by his would-be Democratic successor in 2016. Rather than building his legacy, the president may actually be ensuring that his time in office is remembered more for his lack of respect for the rule of law than any actual accomplishments.

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Dems May Regret Obama’s Immigration Orders

President Obama once again put the country on notice yesterday in his post-midterm election press conference that he will act to legalize millions of illegal immigrants by executive order sometime before the end of the year. Doing so will torpedo any hopes of cooperation with congressional Republicans who will rightly see the moves as an end run around the law that proves his lack of sincerity when he claims he will meet them halfway. But having made it clear that he is unmoved by the notion that the midterm results should induce him to rethink any aspect of his policies, the president will almost certainly finally redeem the promise he made to Hispanic groups to issue the orders. The only questions now are what is he waiting for and whether acting in this manner will help Democrats in the long run.

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President Obama once again put the country on notice yesterday in his post-midterm election press conference that he will act to legalize millions of illegal immigrants by executive order sometime before the end of the year. Doing so will torpedo any hopes of cooperation with congressional Republicans who will rightly see the moves as an end run around the law that proves his lack of sincerity when he claims he will meet them halfway. But having made it clear that he is unmoved by the notion that the midterm results should induce him to rethink any aspect of his policies, the president will almost certainly finally redeem the promise he made to Hispanic groups to issue the orders. The only questions now are what is he waiting for and whether acting in this manner will help Democrats in the long run.

Though immigration reform advocates have been begging him to use the power of the presidency to bypass Congress on this issue for years, the president didn’t promise to do so until this past June when he spoke of issuing the orders by the end of the summer. But embattled red-state Democrats begged him to hold off at least until the election so as to avoid their being tainted by a decision that would have enraged voters. Seeking to help politicians who were his supporters even if they avoided the unpopular president like the plague during the campaign, Obama complied.

This was a mistake since the postponement enraged Hispanics who rightly felt they had been stiffed once again by a president who had chosen not to act on immigration in his first two years in office when Democratic majorities would have given him anything he asked for. This led to a distinct lack of Hispanic enthusiasm for congressional Democrats that helped sink candidates like Senator Mark Udall in Colorado. But far from quieting concerns from the rest of the public, the threat that the president would trash the rule of law in this manner as soon as voters were presumably no longer paying attention only helped generate more support for Democrats. In the end, the president got the worst of both worlds by stalling on amnesty.

But now that the election is over, there really is no political reason to delay further. If Democrats were holding onto the hope that the Louisiana runoff election for Senator Mary Landrieu’s seat could help them retain a majority in the Senate, the president might still be dithering on the issue. But with the Republicans already holding 52 seats after the dust settled on Tuesday (with one more to come from Alaska once those results are finalized), Landrieu’s survival is irrelevant to control of Congress. The president is unlikely to postpone the move to help Landrieu, whose uphill battle in the runoff against Republican Bill Cassidy seems like a hopeless cause. Indeed, it is so hopeless that despite the lack of any other races in which to invest at the moment, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has pulled the plug on nearly $2 million in television ad buys for her reelection effort.

Thus, the president did not shy away yesterday from making the case for his impending actions even though both Senator Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner warned him that he was going to “poison the well” of bipartisan cooperation even before such efforts began. In doing so, he returned to his familiar theme in which he said the reason he had to act was Congress’s failure to pass its own immigration reform bill.

This is a theory of democratic governance that defies both logic and the Constitution. The president may regret the failure of the House to pass a bipartisan reform bill that made it through the Senate. But that unwillingness to put that measure into law provides no legal or moral authority for the president to attempt to put one aspect of that bill into law unilaterally. Whether it is wise or not, Congress is under no obligation to pass legislation that it does not support even if that is the president’s wish.

There are reasonable arguments to be made on behalf of a reform of a broken immigration system as well as for doing something to bring the estimated 12 million illegals already in the country under the umbrella of the law. But what the president is planning to do isn’t reform. Nor will it fix the system. If anything, the spectacle of millions of people here in violation of the law being granted permission to stay without benefit of a vote in Congress will only encourage more illegal immigration, much as the president’s past advocacy of such measures helped create the surge of illegals at the border this past summer. The long-term result will only be to render hopes of controlling the border even more illusory.

Will the executive orders recapture Hispanic enthusiasm for the Democrats? Maybe. The assumption is that Republican opposition to amnesty will ensure that Hispanics vote for the Democrats for generations to come. But Hispanics already support the Democrats for a variety of reasons. And with two years to go until the next time the voters go to the polls in a federal election it is just as possible that many will not soon forget the cynical manner in which they were manipulated this year. But let’s assume that the Democratic stranglehold on the Hispanic vote is further strengthened by the president’s decision. What Democrats need to understand is that merely playing to their base and ignoring the rest of the voters can sometimes do as much harm to their cause as it does good.

What happened this year should have made the president and his supporters understand that the spectacle of a porous border undermines support for immigration measures. At this point, even conservatives who supported the Senate bill now realize that their House colleagues may have been right when they insisted that the border had to be secured before anything could be done to deal with the status of those already here illegally. While something needs to be done to fix the system, the border surge made a comprehensive approach politically impossible.

But for the president to now defy both public opinion and the will of Congress by acting on his own will do more than embitter his Republican antagonists. Though it will mollify one part of his coalition, rather than putting the issue to bed this end run around the law will create even more anger in the political grass roots around the country that will ensure that this issue will still be red hot in 2016. As they should have learned this year, it takes more than an energized base of minorities to win elections. Amnesty for the current crop of illegals will bring us more border surges and more damage to the rule of law. Obama may be content with that being part of his legacy, but it will be his fellow Democrats who will still be stuck trying to explain a move that can’t be defended when they go back to the voters in the future.

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Free Advice for Liberals: Stop Complaining About Skewed Polls

With less than a week left before Election Day, liberal pundits have been reading the polls in battleground states and don’t like what they see. Though many races are still falling inside the margin of error, Republicans are being given the edge in most of the tossup states. Despite the endless talk about there being no “wave” or this being a “Seinfeld election,” a GOP-controlled Senate next January is likely and their gains in both houses of Congress may well exceed what most observers thought was likely. In response, Democrats are doing what a lot of people do when they don’t like the way things are going: they’re crying foul and claiming the polls are skewed against their party. While there’s a chance they may be proved right, the odds are they’re whistling in the wind. And conservatives should be very familiar with the sensation.

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With less than a week left before Election Day, liberal pundits have been reading the polls in battleground states and don’t like what they see. Though many races are still falling inside the margin of error, Republicans are being given the edge in most of the tossup states. Despite the endless talk about there being no “wave” or this being a “Seinfeld election,” a GOP-controlled Senate next January is likely and their gains in both houses of Congress may well exceed what most observers thought was likely. In response, Democrats are doing what a lot of people do when they don’t like the way things are going: they’re crying foul and claiming the polls are skewed against their party. While there’s a chance they may be proved right, the odds are they’re whistling in the wind. And conservatives should be very familiar with the sensation.

Two years ago as we headed for the presidential vote, most of the polls were telling us that Barack Obama would win a clear if narrow victory in his bid for reelection. Battleground states that Republican nominee Mitt Romney badly needed to build an Electoral College majority were all in play but survey after survey showed him trailing. The response from some conservative pundits was to take a close look at the polls, drill down into the data, and see if the sample was kosher. Most of the major polls were built on a statistical model that seemed to overestimate the number of affiliated Democrats being asked their opinion. The samples invariably showed Democrats turning out in the same numbers as they had in 2008 when Obama swept to the White House on a cloud of hope and change charisma and messianic expectations. It seemed impossible that after four years of an indifferent presidency that Obama could perform the same magic trick again when it came to inspiring the Democratic base and huge numbers of minorities, young voters, and unmarried women to come to the polls. Seen in that light, the pollsters were skewing the sample to favor Obama and the Democrats and shortchanging Romney who might well be even with the president once the totals were adjusted to account for who would really show up and vote.

Unlike many other conservative writers who spent the year convinced there was no way as bad a president as Obama could get reelected, I felt he was more likely to win than not. His historic status as our first African-American president made him a unique political figure and his charms, though lost on me and most other conservatives, kept him popular even after a dismal record in office. But after spending enough time parsing electoral survey samples, I became convinced that wildly inflated estimates for the number of Democrats who would vote had created an exaggerated poll-driven picture of the likely outcome that was boosting Obama’s chances and hurting Romney. Along with others who had worked out the same math, I thought the likely Obama victory predicted by New York Times statistical guru Nate Silver seemed to be based on inaccurate data.

My logic was impeccable and my arguments sound. But there was one problem. I was wrong.

It turned out the pollsters were right to think that the Democratic base would turn out for Obama in 2012 the same way they had in 2008. Silver had rightly understood that the pollsters had accounted for possible changes in the electorate. More minorities and young Democrats would turn out than four years earlier or in the 2010 midterms. The result was that Obama did sweep almost every battleground state, although some were by slender margins. Silver was acclaimed as a genius and those of us who had questioned his figures and those of the pollsters he cited had to admit we were mistaken.

I retell this story not out of nostalgia for a result I still consider unfortunate for the nation but as a cautionary tale for liberals who are spending this week digging the same kind of hole I dug for myself prior to the 2012 vote. Listen to MSNBC at any time of day or read some of the people who now write for The Upshot, the section that replaced Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog that he pulled from the Times and now operates as his own independent franchise, and you’ll see, hear, or read similar refrains to the ones I was sounding just two years ago. We are told that the sample sizes being used by the polls showing Republicans winning are underestimating Hispanics, women, or Democrats. Adjust the polls for what they think are the real totals and you’ll find that races are tied or with Democrats rather than Republicans leading.

My advice is to Rachel Maddow and Co. is simple: stop digging. Save your breath and start preparing for the worst rather than creating embarrassing sound bites that will come back to haunt you in a week.

As the redoubtable Silver notes today on his site, errors on the scale that conservatives thought possible in 2012 or liberals are alleging today are always possible but not terribly likely. Talk about skewed polls is the last refuge of those in denial about an electoral trend. That was true two years ago and it’s happening today. The temptation to try and “unskew” the polls is obvious and it’s what readers in our bifurcated media want to see. But, as Silver writes, “Usually this doesn’t end well for the unskewers.”

With so many polls out there showing much the same thing about a Republican advantage, the chances that they are all wrong about who will vote (or have already cast ballots in early voting states) are slim. Unskewing seems like it makes sense but it is invariably based more on wishful thinking than sober analysis. Just as conservatives had to eventually accept that pre-election poll estimates of Democratic turnout were right, so, too, will liberals likely have to own up to the fact that today’s expectations about their base’s voting patterns are similarly accurate. Indeed, as Silver writes, it may be that pollsters are underestimating the number of Republicans this year just as they did the same to some degree for Democrats in 2012.

This should not cause us to lose all skepticism about polls. They should be closely examined and probed for possible errors. But such analyses tend to be based on the idea that the candidates you prefer are being shortchanged more than a real suspicion of error. Assuming that the errors will all go one way or that your candidate will  catch the breaks is a guarantee that you’ll soon be eating your hat, humble pie, crow, or whatever metaphor you prefer. Ms. Maddow and her friends will soon find that it doesn’t taste any better in their mouths than it did in mine.

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Dems’ Texas Fantasies Don’t Add Up

Triumphalism comes naturally to liberals since they tend to conceive of history as the story of the inevitable triumph of progressive ideas over reactionary conservatism. But while those hopes have often been short-circuited since Americans realize that some of what falls under the progressive rubric is counter-productive to the cause of liberty, this mindset is influencing commentary about the future of Texas. Although the Lone Star State is deep red now, Democrats are sure this is about to change thanks to demographics. But those counting on Texas turning blue shouldn’t be holding their breath.

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Triumphalism comes naturally to liberals since they tend to conceive of history as the story of the inevitable triumph of progressive ideas over reactionary conservatism. But while those hopes have often been short-circuited since Americans realize that some of what falls under the progressive rubric is counter-productive to the cause of liberty, this mindset is influencing commentary about the future of Texas. Although the Lone Star State is deep red now, Democrats are sure this is about to change thanks to demographics. But those counting on Texas turning blue shouldn’t be holding their breath.

In today’s New York Times, we get a new version of Democratic optimism with an op-ed by liberal author Richard Parker who asserts that it’s not just the growing number of Hispanics that will transform Texas politics. According to Parker, the shift in the political balance of power has as much to do with the increasing influence of cities as it does to ethnicity. He argues that the growing dominance of urban voters will play just as decisive a role in bringing the Democrats back to power in Austin. He thinks the ability of President Obama to win all of Texas’s big urban counties and cities in 2012 should interest us just as much as the fact that a majority of Texans will likely be of Hispanic origin in 10-20 years. Since even in Texas people who live in cities tend to be more liberal on both economics and social issues, it stands to reason that the growth of these cities heralds the inevitable end of the GOP stranglehold on Texas politics. This leads him to think that not only does Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis—a national favorite of liberals but a heavy underdog in Texas—have a shot at winning this year but that she or a successor is likely to be victorious four years from now.

But like the assumptions about Hispanics paving the way for Texas turning purple, if not blue, this thesis may not be correct.

Ironically on the same day that Parker’s essay appeared, Politico published a piece by conservative author Wayne Thorburn that argues that liberal triumphalism about Texas is mostly wishful thinking.

Thorburn doesn’t dispute that the number of Hispanics is going up from the 37.6 percent of Texas residents reported by the 2010 census. But he points out that a lot of the assumptions about Texas Hispanics are not backed up by the facts.

The first big problem for Democrats is that a sizable percentage of the 10 million Texans classified as Hispanic are not eligible to vote. Parker writes that one million of them are “undocumented non-citizens”—a politically correct way of saying they are illegal immigrants. A large number of other Hispanics are either green card holders who may eventually become citizens or those who hold student visas. Of those who are entitled to vote, only 38.8 percent are registered as opposed to more than 61 percent of the white population.

If that doesn’t sober up Democrats, they should also take into account the fact that Texas Hispanics are less likely to vote for Democrats than those living in deep-blue states like California or New York. Mitt Romney may have only gotten 27 percent of the national Hispanic vote in 2012 but he got approximately ten percent more in Texas. Urban voters may be more likely to be more liberal on social issues but Hispanics, especially those in Texas, appear to be socially conservative and that has helped the GOP hold onto a bigger share of their vote than elsewhere.

All these factors should enable Republicans to go on winning in Texas even if their margins may be diminished.

But the main point here isn’t just about Hispanic voters. It’s that all formulas that assume that voters will behave in exactly the way they have previously are inherently suspect.

Liberals like Parker assume that being urban means being liberal just as others assume Hispanic identity means a vote for the Democrats. Those assumptions are based on past experience and are therefore sound. But what he and anyone else who makes blanket assumptions about Texas or any other state must take into account is the fact that candidates, parties, and ideas still matter more than ethnicity or where you live.

After all, Texas was once part of the solid Democratic south. It changed not because of any demographic shift but because the Democrats’ shift to the left in the 1960s and ’70s rendered them vulnerable to a GOP that had become more identified with support of a strong national defense and hostility to big government than their rivals. That’s why Ronald Reagan swept Texas and it’s the same reason why a Republican Hispanic by the name of Ted Cruz won election to the U.S. Senate there in a landslide (including 40 percent of the Hispanic vote) in 2012.

It is possible that Democrats could pull some future upsets if they nominate candidates who are more conservative than their national party. But the rise of Wendy Davis to national prominence on the back of her abortion filibuster in the state legislature illustrates the conundrum at the heart of Parker’s assumptions. Davis is exactly the kind of candidate who is likely to engender enthusiasm in liberal urban centers like Austin. But amid a multitude of problems that have plagued her gubernatorial run is the fact that she has little appeal to a Hispanic population that doesn’t view abortion as favorably as other Democrats. Nor is there any reason to assume that Hispanic Democrats like the Castro brothers are going to have the traction to flip moderate swing voters.

Demographic determinism may be heady stuff for political scientists but in real life politics isn’t science. Until Democrats learn that lesson and start trying to appeal to conservatives, their Texas scenarios will remain fantasies.

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Obama Deportation Pledge Is Dem Dilemma

When it comes to immigration, President Obama and his party are between a rock and a hard place. But the president’s efforts to finesse the issue of deportations of illegal immigrants are creating as many problems for Democrats as they are solving. By postponing plans to issue executive orders that would effectively legalize millions of illegals, the president alienated Hispanics. But by publicly promising to do so only after the midterm elections in November, as he did last night in a speech to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute gala, he may be dooming the red-state Democratic incumbents he sought to help by putting off the moves in the first place.

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When it comes to immigration, President Obama and his party are between a rock and a hard place. But the president’s efforts to finesse the issue of deportations of illegal immigrants are creating as many problems for Democrats as they are solving. By postponing plans to issue executive orders that would effectively legalize millions of illegals, the president alienated Hispanics. But by publicly promising to do so only after the midterm elections in November, as he did last night in a speech to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute gala, he may be dooming the red-state Democratic incumbents he sought to help by putting off the moves in the first place.

No matter where you come down on the issue of immigration reform, the president’s plans to effectively nullify existing laws by executive fiat and allow millions of people to stay who might otherwise be deported is an egregious abuse of power. Those who want Congress to act to repair the country’s broken immigration system may well criticize the House of Representatives for failing to either pass the bipartisan comprehensive reform bill produced by the Senate or to move their own bill or bills. But their decision to hold off on such legislation does not entitle the president to act as if he can govern on his own without congressional consent.

But that is exactly what his restive Hispanic supporters have been demanding that he do for the last six years. Democrats need Hispanic voters to vote this fall in something like the same huge numbers that turned out for the president in 2012 in order to have a shot at holding on to the Senate. But many who blame the president for the high number of deportations of illegals that have been carried out on his watch have lost patience and see no reason to flock to the polls. That’s especially true in states where Democrats have opposed unilateral action by the president because they understand just how unpopular such moves are with most voters.

So in order to convince Hispanics to be good soldiers in the Democrat army, he is promising again that he will trash the rule of law and stop the deportations once the midterms are over. But the irony is that one of the Democrats most in need of those Hispanic voters not only opposed the president’s executive orders but also has demanded that he not use them even after November. North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan is one of the few embattled Democrats fighting for reelection this year that are still favored to win. But the more the president talks about overturning the laws and allowing millions of illegals to evade deportation, the worse her chances of holding onto a slim lead over Republican Thom Tillis look. Nor, even after Obama’s latest promises, is it likely that Hispanics will feel very enthusiastic about backing Hagan.

It should be understood that while a majority of Americans understand that the immigration system needs to be fixed and a solution found for the more than 11 million people who are already here illegally, they are not sanguine about measures that may invite even more illegal immigration in the future. The crisis at the Texas border this past summer highlighted the fact that reform efforts and the president’s statements have helped create a new surge of illegals. That has changed the debate about the issue in a way that places the president’s threats of unilateral action directly contrary to the will of the public and the Constitution.

The pledge to stop the deportations makes sense if the Democrats’ priority this year was to energize their base of minority voters. But the midterms are largely being fought in swing or red states where Republicans can just as easily batter their opponents by speaking of what the president has said he will do as they can by criticizing what he has already done. The GOP record on immigration isn’t good and ultimately they need to find a response to the issue that speaks of more than border security if they ever hope to make a dent in the Hispanic vote. But if Democrats think they can hold Congress by Obama acting in a manner that may well set off an even greater surge of illegals that will also hope to be eventually granted amnesty, they are mistaken.

The president’s plans undermine the rule of law while not really fixing the problem. But the more he talks about this sensitive issue, the more harm he is doing to the cause of his party.

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The GOP and Scott’s Immigration Flip

When Rick Scott successfully ran for governor of Florida in 2010 beating Democrat Alex Sink, he called for a crackdown on illegal immigration. He endorsed Arizona’s controversial law calling for law enforcement authorities to check the immigration status of those who were arrested, blamed illegals for taking jobs away from Floridians, and said they should be sent back where they came from. But, due in no small part to support from the Cuban-American community, he wound up winning a whopping 50 percent of the Hispanic vote according to exit polls that year.

Despite calls from other Republicans who interpreted their 2012 defeat in the presidential election as a sign they needed to start thinking differently about immigration, he has generally stuck to that hard line, even vetoing a bill passed by the GOP-controlled legislature that would have allowed the children of illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses. But apparently Scott, who trails his predecessor Charlie Crist in all the polls, may be thinking that now would be a good time to reach out to Hispanics who regard immigration as a litmus test.

As Fox News Latino reports:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who urged a crackdown on immigration four years ago, is throwing his support behind a bill that would allow qualified Florida students to pay in-state college tuition rates even if they are in the country illegally. But Scott is supporting the idea as long as it is combined with his own proposal to place limits on how much state universities can raise tuition each year.

It’s not entirely clear what Scott is up to, but this has the feel of an election-year conversion that is more likely to anger right-wing opponents of immigration than it will entice Hispanic voters to vote for him. If so and if Scott winds up losing to the former Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Crist, then it is likely that conservatives will blame it on the governor’s lack of principles rather than on faulty policies. But Scott’s fate is not the only matter at stake in this debate. Though Florida’s electorate has a different makeup than other states with large Hispanic populations, the governor’s flip-flop may be a sign that even those who benefitted from rabble-rousing anti-immigrant stands in the past are starting to realize that the negative fallout from that position may be greater than the benefits.

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When Rick Scott successfully ran for governor of Florida in 2010 beating Democrat Alex Sink, he called for a crackdown on illegal immigration. He endorsed Arizona’s controversial law calling for law enforcement authorities to check the immigration status of those who were arrested, blamed illegals for taking jobs away from Floridians, and said they should be sent back where they came from. But, due in no small part to support from the Cuban-American community, he wound up winning a whopping 50 percent of the Hispanic vote according to exit polls that year.

Despite calls from other Republicans who interpreted their 2012 defeat in the presidential election as a sign they needed to start thinking differently about immigration, he has generally stuck to that hard line, even vetoing a bill passed by the GOP-controlled legislature that would have allowed the children of illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses. But apparently Scott, who trails his predecessor Charlie Crist in all the polls, may be thinking that now would be a good time to reach out to Hispanics who regard immigration as a litmus test.

As Fox News Latino reports:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who urged a crackdown on immigration four years ago, is throwing his support behind a bill that would allow qualified Florida students to pay in-state college tuition rates even if they are in the country illegally. But Scott is supporting the idea as long as it is combined with his own proposal to place limits on how much state universities can raise tuition each year.

It’s not entirely clear what Scott is up to, but this has the feel of an election-year conversion that is more likely to anger right-wing opponents of immigration than it will entice Hispanic voters to vote for him. If so and if Scott winds up losing to the former Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Crist, then it is likely that conservatives will blame it on the governor’s lack of principles rather than on faulty policies. But Scott’s fate is not the only matter at stake in this debate. Though Florida’s electorate has a different makeup than other states with large Hispanic populations, the governor’s flip-flop may be a sign that even those who benefitted from rabble-rousing anti-immigrant stands in the past are starting to realize that the negative fallout from that position may be greater than the benefits.

Given the desire of conservatives to turn out to send a message to Washington against President Obama and especially ObamaCare, perhaps it’s smart politics for Scott to risk a backlash from conservatives. But his decision to break down and start mending fences with those who want a softer approach to illegal immigration has an air of desperation about it. The governor has had a rocky term in Tallahassee and is easily among the most vulnerable GOP incumbents in 2014. Even taking into account the fact that the large Cuban-American demographic in Florida is more Republican than any other group of Hispanics, his standing among Hispanic voters has dropped since his 2010 win. Though he remains within striking distance of Crist and can count on a midterm environment that looks to be very friendly to Republicans (as the vote in the special election in Florida’s 13th Congressional District showed on Tuesday), Scott remains an underdog heading toward November.

Nevertheless, Scott’s abandonment of the anti-immigration crowd this year may be a signal that some Republicans are starting to understand that bashing illegals may not be quite as potent a talking point as it was only four years ago. It was one thing for Scott to urge that the 800,000 illegals in Florida be deported when he was running for office. But that sort of empty threat rings hollow from someone sitting in the governor’s chair. Support for DREAM Act-type measures such as those involving in-state tuition rates are growing, making those holding the line against them look mean-spirited and out of touch with reality. That’s why GOP majorities in the legislature have backed such stands.

Moreover, if Republicans are going to be able to build winning coalitions in the future, they’re going to need Hispanic votes. In Florida, that once meant just taking a strong stand against the Communist regime in Havana. But even Cuban-Americans may now require more than a casual swipe at Castro in order to gain their support.

If Scott is defeated this year, it’s likely that it won’t be due primarily to his position(s) on immigration. But by doing an about-face on the issue in the middle of a tough reelection race, he has certainly given other Republicans food for thought about how best to build a majority in an era when Hispanic votes are up for grabs.

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The GOP’s Immigration Dilemma

It is possible that House Speaker John Boehner’s comments yesterday casting doubt that immigration reform legislation can be passed this year isn’t the final word on the subject. Boehner wants to tackle the issue and knows it’s in the best interests of the Republican Party that the GOP not be seen as the sole obstacle to fixing a broken system. But he also knows that a majority of the House Republican caucus as well as much of the conservative grassroots activists that provide the ground troops in campaigns want no part of a bill that would provide “amnesty” to illegals or, for that matter, anything that smacks of compromise with President Obama and the Democrats. So just a week after the House leadership issued a set of principles on immigration that seemed to hold out the promise of a compromise with the White House—especially after the president expressed his willingness to accept a bill that did not include a direct path to citizenship for illegals—Boehner’s comments were an acknowledgement that the bulk of his party simply won’t tolerate any immigration bill at all.

This pleases conservatives who feared an intra-party battle over immigration would derail what appeared to be an excellent chance of victory in the midterm elections this November. They argued the debate over immigration would distract voters from ObamaCare and supress GOP turnout. Since Republicans have good reason to believe that the president won’t enforce the border security parts of any new package, there seemed no reason for Boehner to risk his party’s unity—and his Speakership—to take up this hot potato.

But assuming that this is the final word on the subject in 2014 and not just Boehner’s feint to the right before addressing the issue later this year–as immigration reform advocates still hope–this decision is nothing for Republicans to celebrate. Even if we accept the premise that a debate on immigration would harm the GOP’s chances to take back the Senate this fall, a Republican decision to obstruct reform is a terrible mistake that will cause more damage to the party in the long run than an internecine battle over the issue would do this year.

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It is possible that House Speaker John Boehner’s comments yesterday casting doubt that immigration reform legislation can be passed this year isn’t the final word on the subject. Boehner wants to tackle the issue and knows it’s in the best interests of the Republican Party that the GOP not be seen as the sole obstacle to fixing a broken system. But he also knows that a majority of the House Republican caucus as well as much of the conservative grassroots activists that provide the ground troops in campaigns want no part of a bill that would provide “amnesty” to illegals or, for that matter, anything that smacks of compromise with President Obama and the Democrats. So just a week after the House leadership issued a set of principles on immigration that seemed to hold out the promise of a compromise with the White House—especially after the president expressed his willingness to accept a bill that did not include a direct path to citizenship for illegals—Boehner’s comments were an acknowledgement that the bulk of his party simply won’t tolerate any immigration bill at all.

This pleases conservatives who feared an intra-party battle over immigration would derail what appeared to be an excellent chance of victory in the midterm elections this November. They argued the debate over immigration would distract voters from ObamaCare and supress GOP turnout. Since Republicans have good reason to believe that the president won’t enforce the border security parts of any new package, there seemed no reason for Boehner to risk his party’s unity—and his Speakership—to take up this hot potato.

But assuming that this is the final word on the subject in 2014 and not just Boehner’s feint to the right before addressing the issue later this year–as immigration reform advocates still hope–this decision is nothing for Republicans to celebrate. Even if we accept the premise that a debate on immigration would harm the GOP’s chances to take back the Senate this fall, a Republican decision to obstruct reform is a terrible mistake that will cause more damage to the party in the long run than an internecine battle over the issue would do this year.

As our Peter Wehner detailed in a sobering post yesterday, the Republican Party has a demographic problem that can’t be ignored or wished away. With minorities making up an increasingly large percentage of the American population, the GOP’s chances of winning back the presidency in 2016 or in subsequent elections hinge on its ability to appeal to non-whites and specifically the growing Hispanic population. While many conservatives are right to argue that passing immigration reform isn’t a magic bullet that will persuade predominantly liberal Hispanic voters to embrace the Republicans, it must be understood that as long as the party is viewed as implacably hostile to the interests of Hispanics, its chances of making even minor inroads in that group are minimal. As the numbers that Pete discussed illustrate, a failure to change this electoral equation seals the fate of the GOP in presidential politics for the foreseeable future.

But the damage isn’t limited to the resentment Hispanics feel about a party dominated by those who seem intent on clinging to the fantasy of deporting 11 million people. The implacable resistance to “amnesty” on the part of some conservatives seems rooted as much in hostility to growing ethnic diversity as it is to a reluctance to acknowledge that the illegals already here must be given a chance to get right with the law. That image hurts Republicans with more than just Hispanics. With some on the right saying they oppose immigration because they wish to prevent more Hispanics from becoming voters, this less attractive aspect of the immigration debate can’t be ignored. Republican leaders must confront and reject such views and the only effective way to do it is to pass a reform bill now and put this issue in their rear-view mirror.

Nor can we assume that reform can be put off until next January, when the GOP hopes it will control both houses of Congress. Even if Republicans are in charge of the Senate as well as the House next year, the same dynamic that pits conservative/Tea Party rebels against the so-called establishment will still be in play. If anything, the Republican caucus will be even less likely to listen to reason on immigration in 2015 than it is in 2014. Due to gerrymandering and the growing division between the parties, GOP representatives have grown more conservative in each new Congress. This year won’t reverse that trend. Thus, it will be even harder for Boehner or any Republican leader to keep his troops in line in order for the GOP to pass a bill that will soften the Democrats’ advantage with Hispanics prior to 2016.

It is true that President Obama deserves some of the blame here. By choosing to use his State of the Union address to justify a shift toward efforts to bypass Congress and rule by executive order, he played right into the hands of conservatives who accurately point out the president has already demonstrated that his administration will only enforce the laws he agrees with. That means the enforcement element of any immigration package may prove illusory even if Democrats agree to the tough measures Republicans have rightly demanded.

But Obama will not be president forever. Immigration reform is not just good politics but also good public policy. Fixing the system is an imperative, as is policing the border. But if Republicans succumb to the temptation to procrastinate or oppose reform for the sake of avoiding an intra-party squabble, they will not only be making a mistake on the merits of the issue but committing a long-term political error that will ensure their dissatisfaction with the occupant of the Oval Office for decades to come.

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Race Shouldn’t Define American Politics

The magic bullet of American politics is no secret. When in doubt or when they are backed into a corner—as they are now with ObamaCare’s disastrous rollout compounded, by the exposure of the president’s lies about Americans being able to keep their health coverage—liberals know their best strategy is to change the topic and to start discussing racism. That’s the rather flimsy conceit of an opinion piece published in today’s New York Times as a news story under the rubric of a “Political Memo.” You don’t have to read between the lines to catch on to its not terribly subtle message. All you have to do is to read the headline: “Behind the Roar of Political Debates, Whispers of Race Persist.” According to the Times the proof of this is the fact that the largely liberal-leaning and pro-Obama African-American community backs the president’s signature health-care plan while whites don’t. Were author John Harwood interested in serious analysis of opinion about the issue, he would have noted that the percentage of blacks backing the bill—59 percent—was far lower than the percentage of that community that votes for Democrats, showing just how shaky backing for ObamaCare really is. But instead it was the lead-in for a lengthy dissertation about how Republicans are injecting race and racism into American politics.

The utter absence of racial incitement in American politics has forced the left to invent new forms of alleged racism, such as voter ID laws that are even supported by the majority of African Americans. Nor is the Democrats’ firm hold on the votes of minorities such as blacks and Hispanics terribly surprising, since groups comprising of those more likely to have lower incomes or to be immigrants will always skew to the left. Hyping this split, as the Times does, as being the result of Republican racism is disingenuous. This is a classic example of liberal media bias that seeks to interpret the strong support for limited government or opposition to the president as motivated by hate. But before conservatives completely dismiss it, they need to think long and hard about how they will approach the impending debate about immigration reform.

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The magic bullet of American politics is no secret. When in doubt or when they are backed into a corner—as they are now with ObamaCare’s disastrous rollout compounded, by the exposure of the president’s lies about Americans being able to keep their health coverage—liberals know their best strategy is to change the topic and to start discussing racism. That’s the rather flimsy conceit of an opinion piece published in today’s New York Times as a news story under the rubric of a “Political Memo.” You don’t have to read between the lines to catch on to its not terribly subtle message. All you have to do is to read the headline: “Behind the Roar of Political Debates, Whispers of Race Persist.” According to the Times the proof of this is the fact that the largely liberal-leaning and pro-Obama African-American community backs the president’s signature health-care plan while whites don’t. Were author John Harwood interested in serious analysis of opinion about the issue, he would have noted that the percentage of blacks backing the bill—59 percent—was far lower than the percentage of that community that votes for Democrats, showing just how shaky backing for ObamaCare really is. But instead it was the lead-in for a lengthy dissertation about how Republicans are injecting race and racism into American politics.

The utter absence of racial incitement in American politics has forced the left to invent new forms of alleged racism, such as voter ID laws that are even supported by the majority of African Americans. Nor is the Democrats’ firm hold on the votes of minorities such as blacks and Hispanics terribly surprising, since groups comprising of those more likely to have lower incomes or to be immigrants will always skew to the left. Hyping this split, as the Times does, as being the result of Republican racism is disingenuous. This is a classic example of liberal media bias that seeks to interpret the strong support for limited government or opposition to the president as motivated by hate. But before conservatives completely dismiss it, they need to think long and hard about how they will approach the impending debate about immigration reform.

While immigration is likely to remain on the back burner with the focus on the need for a budget deal and the ObamaCare rollout, the administration as well as key business groups will be pushing hard for it in the upcoming months. Many conservatives oppose reform because they think providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants is wrong or because they don’t trust the government to enforce current laws or to, as the bipartisan compromise bill passed earlier this year by the Senate promises, secure the border. But if, as some prominent voices on the right seem inclined to believe, the rationale for opposing reform is that more Hispanic immigrant voters will hurt the Republican Party, then they will have effectively validated the premise of the Times hit piece on the GOP.

Back in June, writing in agreement with something I wrote on the subject, National Review’s Jonah Goldberg stated, “Republicans cannot allow themselves to fall into the argument that they don’t want to legalize illegal immigrants solely because they’re afraid they’ll become Democrats.” But unfortunately that’s exactly what some are still doing. Over the past year, a steady undercurrent of conservative voices have been claiming that the main consequence of passing immigration reform will be to doom the GOP because it will result in the creation of more Hispanic voters. Just this week, pundit Ann Coulter said it on William Bennett’s “Morning in America” radio program without being challenged by the show’s host even though he remains one of the most honorable and sensible conservatives in the country.

Those like Goldberg who argue that Republicans shouldn’t try and justify immigration reform by saying it will lead to Hispanics voting for the GOP are right. They are not one-issue voters, and the economic status of many of them means they will remain in the pockets of big-government tax-and-spend Democrats.

But the moment conservatives start talking about a political imperative to limit the number of Hispanics becoming citizens they render themselves vulnerable to accusations of prejudice such as the ones being floated by the Times. As with the entire issue of immigration, we’ve been here before as a nation. In the late 19th century, Republicans felt that immigrants from Ireland and Italy were natural supporters of urban Democrat machines. Had they taken the long view, they would have realized that eventually the descendants of those new citizens would be just as open to the GOP message as WASPs. But instead, they did their best to alienate them; with Republican presidential candidate James G. Blaine (whose anti-Catholic bigotry was the impetus for the passage of state constitutional amendments banning the funding of religious schools that today thwart school choice) denouncing the Democrats in 1884 as the party of “rum, Romanism, and rebellion.” It would be decades before his party lived that down and began making inroads with these voters.

Immigration reform must be debated on its merits. Like Senator Marco Rubio, I believe “amnesty” is what we have now with unenforceable laws, not the prospect that law-abiding people who have been here for many years and are willing to pay a penalty will be given a chance to come in out of the shadows and become citizens. Others will argue that doing so undermines the rule of law. I think that’s wrong, but it is at least an argument rooted in principle. But the moment conservatives start talking about their fear of Hispanic votes, they really are dooming the Republicans to a bleak future and undermining their standing with the rest of the country as well.

Race and ethnicity should never be allowed to define American politics. That’s true for race baiting liberals like the ones at the Times as well as those on the right who speak of a Hispanic peril. The danger to the GOP in this debate is not so much the prospect of a split between those who disagree about the issue but the possibility of many conservatives sending a message to Hispanics that they are not welcome. That is a mistake for which their party could pay dearly.

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The GOP’s Immigration Crackup

Given how many accounts have been published of yesterday’s closed door meeting of the House Republican Caucus to talk about immigration reform, it might have saved everyone a great deal of time if House Speaker John Boehner had just invited C-Span to televise it live (the cable news networks would have been too busy broadcasting the George Zimmerman murder trial). Piecing together all of the various reports, we know that Boehner warned his members of the price of inaction on the issue. But we also know that a large portion of the House GOP is inclined to do just that even if they are floating ideas about passing seven or eight different bills on the subject that will address various elements of the problem, though none are likely to address the question of what to do with the 11 million illegal immigrants already here.

Though Boehner and, even more importantly, Rep. Paul Ryan, would like to cajole the caucus into putting forward some coherent response to the bipartisan compromise bill passed by the Senate, it’s growing increasingly clear that the speaker’s warnings are going to go unheeded. Too many House members have come to the conclusion that an influential portion of their grass roots constituency won’t tolerate anything done on immigration other than the militarization of the border with Mexico that was part of the Senate’s gang of eight deal. Cheered on by some of conservatism’s leading lights such as the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol and the National Review’s Rich Lowry, the consensus of most political observers is that it appears to be that the nothing option is exactly what will happen. Since, as has been pointed out continuously, most Republican House members run in districts where they don’t have to listen to anyone but fellow conservatives, few have any inclination to act in a manner that is consistent with their party’s best long-term interests, let alone doing the right thing about immigration.

While I think the doomsayers about passage of any reform bill are probably right, there’s a small chance the House can somehow cobble together something that can be called immigration reform in the form of a package of bills that might address border security, deal with the reality of illegal immigrants and rework the law in a way that would encourage legal immigration that is essential for the continued growth of our economy. But for that to happen, it would require the House GOP to start listening to the counsel being offered to them by Boehner and Ryan. Right now, that looks like too heavy a lift for either the speaker or the influential House budget chair. Like a train wreck that can’t be stopped, the GOP immigration crackup seems inevitable.

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Given how many accounts have been published of yesterday’s closed door meeting of the House Republican Caucus to talk about immigration reform, it might have saved everyone a great deal of time if House Speaker John Boehner had just invited C-Span to televise it live (the cable news networks would have been too busy broadcasting the George Zimmerman murder trial). Piecing together all of the various reports, we know that Boehner warned his members of the price of inaction on the issue. But we also know that a large portion of the House GOP is inclined to do just that even if they are floating ideas about passing seven or eight different bills on the subject that will address various elements of the problem, though none are likely to address the question of what to do with the 11 million illegal immigrants already here.

Though Boehner and, even more importantly, Rep. Paul Ryan, would like to cajole the caucus into putting forward some coherent response to the bipartisan compromise bill passed by the Senate, it’s growing increasingly clear that the speaker’s warnings are going to go unheeded. Too many House members have come to the conclusion that an influential portion of their grass roots constituency won’t tolerate anything done on immigration other than the militarization of the border with Mexico that was part of the Senate’s gang of eight deal. Cheered on by some of conservatism’s leading lights such as the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol and the National Review’s Rich Lowry, the consensus of most political observers is that it appears to be that the nothing option is exactly what will happen. Since, as has been pointed out continuously, most Republican House members run in districts where they don’t have to listen to anyone but fellow conservatives, few have any inclination to act in a manner that is consistent with their party’s best long-term interests, let alone doing the right thing about immigration.

While I think the doomsayers about passage of any reform bill are probably right, there’s a small chance the House can somehow cobble together something that can be called immigration reform in the form of a package of bills that might address border security, deal with the reality of illegal immigrants and rework the law in a way that would encourage legal immigration that is essential for the continued growth of our economy. But for that to happen, it would require the House GOP to start listening to the counsel being offered to them by Boehner and Ryan. Right now, that looks like too heavy a lift for either the speaker or the influential House budget chair. Like a train wreck that can’t be stopped, the GOP immigration crackup seems inevitable.

It is unfortunate that so much of the discussion about the need for Republicans to pass immigration reform has centered on the supposed political advantages that will accrue to them if they do it. Critics of the gang of eight bill are right when they say its passage won’t guarantee Republicans a larger share of the Hispanic vote in 2016. But the problem is not so much whether Hispanics can be enticed to become GOP voters as it is the spectacle of a Republican Party that seems willing to fall over itself in order to pander to people who are openly hostile to immigration or any form of legalization for the 11 million people who are already here and aren’t going to be deported.

While Kristol and Lowry in their well argued manifesto against the reform bill claim that the current debate has been notable for the absence of “hostility to immigrants” that characterized so much of the arguments that shot down President Bush’s attempt to reform immigration, I think they are not listening much to talk radio or reading the comments sections of newspapers and magazines that report on the issue. Kristol and Lowry claim, “you can be pro-immigrant and pro-immigration, and even favor legalization of the 11 million illegal immigrants who are here and increases in some categories of legal immigration—and vigorously oppose this bill.” While I think that is undoubtedly true about that formidable pair of conservative editors, the same cannot be said for many of those who agree with them that “nothing” would be better than passing the legislation.

While they and other critics of the bill have attempted to pose the question as a no-confidence vote in the Obama administration’s trustworthiness, the idea that any fix to immigration must wait until a Republican is elected president doesn’t strike me as a particularly effective argument on policy. If the legalization-first element is what is really bothering some conservatives, then they can craft a bill that would reverse the order of some of its provisions. But what they seem to be saying is that any measure that cannot guarantee a hermetically sealed border or magically prevent those who come here legally but then overstay their visas from doing so is unacceptable. That, like Mitt Romney’s infamous “self-deportation” idea, is not a serious position.

Nor am I convinced that it is now a core conservative principle that any large compromise bill on any measure must be stopped. Liberals who have pointed out that conservatives were ready to make compromises of all sorts to defend policy measures that were important to them in the past, like tax cuts, are right. Unless we are to adopt a parliamentary style of government in which the majority can more or less pass anything they like so long as the whip is out without the constitutional checks and balances of our system, compromises on big issues are always going to be necessary. Any idea that passage of separate House bills that are not necessarily compatible with each other, let alone capable of Senate passage, is a rational plan is daft.

But those House members who appear determined to ignore the pleadings of Boehner and Ryan are not so much being influenced by the intellectual arguments mustered by Kristol and Lowry as they are the fear of offending those who think any solution to the 11 million illegals that offers legalization and/or citizenship is an offense to the rule of law or a threat to the future of the culture of the nation. Kristol and Lowry don’t use the word “amnesty” to characterize the gang’s bill, but most opponents of the bill do. The fixation on punishing or getting rid of the present population of illegals leaves the impression that malice is driving the discussion. So long as conservatives are heard to argue that the bill is a formula for the creation of more Democratic voters or a plot by the Obama administration to permanently marginalize the GOP, Hispanics and many other Americans are likely to interpret opposition to reform as an appeal to nativist sentiment, not a policy prescription.

I think Kristol and Lowry are wrong about the urgency of the matter not so much because we can’t live with a long-broken system for another few years but because the longer so many Republicans give the country the impression that they fear immigration—legal or illegal—they will be harming their image in a manner that will go beyond the putative impact on the Hispanic vote.

A lot of leading conservatives seem to think that they can’t survive if they oppose the net roots on this issue, and perhaps there is some truth to that. Boehner would probably lose his speakership if he allows a vote on the reform bill or anything like it that is produced in the House. It’s also possible that getting labeled as RINOs or establishment cat’s-paws will damage individuals and institutions that agree with conservatives like Ryan, George W. Bush and Marco Rubio that an immigration compromise is the right thing to do as well as good politics for the GOP. But the failure to deal with this issue will do conservatism far more harm in the long run than those who believe it can wait until a Republican president or Senate arrives in Washington think. If the GOP listens to the naysayers, it may be a long wait before either of those outcomes arrives.

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History, Not Hispanics Will Judge GOP

The approval by the Senate yesterday of the immigration reform bill is, as most observers are rightly noting, less a victory for its advocates than a prelude to a defeat. After struggling mightily to garner 68 votes in the Senate, the gang of eight must come to grips with the fact that only 15 Republicans (including four of the original sponsors) voted for the bill. Though the yes votes, comprising more than two-thirds of the Senate, represented an impressive bipartisan coalition the prospects of passage in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives are slim if not entirely non-existent. The ability of anti-reform forces to rally much of the GOP grass roots to oppose the reform proposal as “amnesty” or a fraudulent attempt to bolster border security has entirely intimidated the House leadership and much of the party. Though some supporters of the idea, such as Rep. Paul Ryan, are vowing to bring forward a version of reform that might conceivably be meshed with the Senate bill in a conference, passage of any compromise that might conceivably satisfy either party seems unlikely.

The defeat of immigration reform will, if it happens, set off a new round of public soul searching and blame-assigning on the part of Republicans and their critics. The end of this attempt, which many thought might address the GOP’s growing problems with the fastest growing sector of voters—Hispanics—will be seen by some as a dismal follow-up to last November’s electoral debacle. By contrast, some conservatives will act as if the entire problem is a figment of the imagination of the dreaded party establishment. But I think too much of the discussion about this issue has centered on the implications of whether it will help Republicans win elections and not enough effort has been made to place it in historical perspective. Though we have treated this debate as if it were an entirely new issue in American politics whose only antecedent is the 1986 bill that is widely regarded as a failure, arguments about immigration stretch back through American history. The problem for Republicans then is not so much what Hispanics (many of whom are not likely to embrace the GOP anytime soon no matter what it does) think of them as it is what history will say about their apparent decision to squander an opportunity to fix a problem in a way that might accrue to their advantage as well as to align themselves with anti-immigration sentiments that have not exactly aided those who espoused them in the past.

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The approval by the Senate yesterday of the immigration reform bill is, as most observers are rightly noting, less a victory for its advocates than a prelude to a defeat. After struggling mightily to garner 68 votes in the Senate, the gang of eight must come to grips with the fact that only 15 Republicans (including four of the original sponsors) voted for the bill. Though the yes votes, comprising more than two-thirds of the Senate, represented an impressive bipartisan coalition the prospects of passage in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives are slim if not entirely non-existent. The ability of anti-reform forces to rally much of the GOP grass roots to oppose the reform proposal as “amnesty” or a fraudulent attempt to bolster border security has entirely intimidated the House leadership and much of the party. Though some supporters of the idea, such as Rep. Paul Ryan, are vowing to bring forward a version of reform that might conceivably be meshed with the Senate bill in a conference, passage of any compromise that might conceivably satisfy either party seems unlikely.

The defeat of immigration reform will, if it happens, set off a new round of public soul searching and blame-assigning on the part of Republicans and their critics. The end of this attempt, which many thought might address the GOP’s growing problems with the fastest growing sector of voters—Hispanics—will be seen by some as a dismal follow-up to last November’s electoral debacle. By contrast, some conservatives will act as if the entire problem is a figment of the imagination of the dreaded party establishment. But I think too much of the discussion about this issue has centered on the implications of whether it will help Republicans win elections and not enough effort has been made to place it in historical perspective. Though we have treated this debate as if it were an entirely new issue in American politics whose only antecedent is the 1986 bill that is widely regarded as a failure, arguments about immigration stretch back through American history. The problem for Republicans then is not so much what Hispanics (many of whom are not likely to embrace the GOP anytime soon no matter what it does) think of them as it is what history will say about their apparent decision to squander an opportunity to fix a problem in a way that might accrue to their advantage as well as to align themselves with anti-immigration sentiments that have not exactly aided those who espoused them in the past.

The prospect of consigning the gang of eight’s bill to the dustbin of history has led many on the right to use the occasion of the Senate vote to start crowing about their effective veto on any measure that might fix our broken immigration system. They are feeling cocky about the way they have buffaloed much of Congress into branding what was a reasonable compromise as being the embodiment of everything conservatives are supposed to hate. This is in spite of the fact that it combined the most serious attempt to deal with border security with a scheme that would have eventually brought 11 million illegal immigrants out of the shadows. I have yet to hear a coherent response to the question of what conservative principle was at stake in preventing either of these outcomes. But what I have heard from many opponents of the bill is something that is far more troubling than mere disagreement.

If Congress fails to deal with immigration reform in this session it may not, as some have said, necessarily doom the Republican Party to defeats in future elections. Nor need it end the presidential hopes of Senator Marco Rubio, who is being unfairly branded a RINO by the bill’s foes. As John Podhoretz wrote this morning, three years is a lifetime in politics and anything can happen that might boost Rubio to the GOP nomination or to sink the Democrats in 2016. But anyone who thinks the tenor of this debate has not materially affected the ability of the Republican Party to appeal to Hispanics simply hasn’t been paying attention. With so many on the right acting as if their goal was not so much to turn the border with Mexico into the Great Wall of China (something that the Corker-Hoeven amendment to the gang’s bill might well have come close to achieving) but to demonstrate their antipathy for legal immigration and to make sure that those who are here without permission are treated as pariahs rather than offered, as most Americans rightly support, a chance to have their status legalized.

This is a disaster not so much because it alienates Hispanics as because it consigns what appears to be the majority of the House GOP caucus to being remembered as the latest iteration of the Know Nothing tradition of American history. Opponents of the bill will claim this is a slander, but as Peter Wehner rightly noted yesterday, the change in Republican rhetoric about immigration from the open-minded and optimistic tone of Ronald Reagan to the sort of thing we are hearing from the netroots these days should discourage any thinking conservative.

There is still time for the GOP to think twice about killing reform. It is possible for Republicans to pass a bill that does all the things the Senate bill might achieve even if it reverses the order and prioritizes security. But having painted themselves into a rhetorical corner on the issue, it’s not clear that those who have demagogued the issue have the ability to do it. At this point, alienated Hispanics may not care much what Republicans do on the issue the rest of the year, but history will not ignore the opportunity wasted or the unnecessary enemies made by those who may bring about this result.

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Immigration and the Republicans

Writing today in the Corner at National Review Online, Jonah Goldberg takes up the point I discussed earlier today about the necessity for Republicans not to frame the immigration reform issue as one in which their principal motivation is to avoid allowing more Hispanics to become Democratic voters. He agrees with me that’s wrong, but he also says that supporters of the gang of eight bill are mistaken to try and sell their legislation to the GOP on the grounds that it is good politics. He thinks the debate on the bill should rise and fall on its merits, and I’m perfectly happy to join him in supporting that sentiment.

Reform of a failed immigration system that makes a mockery of the rule of law and replacing it with something that both strengthens border security and provides productive and otherwise law-abiding residents of the United States a path to legalization is good policy. Contrary to many of our friends on the right who claim Republicans have a vital interest in derailing efforts to bring about that change, I see no conservative principle at stake in either defending the status quo or an unrealistic call for the deportation of 11 million people that we know are going nowhere. As many conservatives and most of the business community have long argued, immigration is not only a response to economic reality, it continues to be one of America’s great strengths and should be encouraged rather than opposed.

However, I disagree with Goldberg when he says that Republicans should not consider the political implications of the issue. He’s right that votes on the bill should be determined by “the national interest” on such a major issue and that, as I noted in my piece, there is no guarantee that poor Hispanics will become Republicans just because the party backs immigration reform. But while the bill isn’t going to be sold to the party simply because it is good politics, the problem is that strident anti-immigration voices on the right have already put the GOP in a position where it must do something to rebrand itself on the issue in order to have a hope of turning the situation around.

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Writing today in the Corner at National Review Online, Jonah Goldberg takes up the point I discussed earlier today about the necessity for Republicans not to frame the immigration reform issue as one in which their principal motivation is to avoid allowing more Hispanics to become Democratic voters. He agrees with me that’s wrong, but he also says that supporters of the gang of eight bill are mistaken to try and sell their legislation to the GOP on the grounds that it is good politics. He thinks the debate on the bill should rise and fall on its merits, and I’m perfectly happy to join him in supporting that sentiment.

Reform of a failed immigration system that makes a mockery of the rule of law and replacing it with something that both strengthens border security and provides productive and otherwise law-abiding residents of the United States a path to legalization is good policy. Contrary to many of our friends on the right who claim Republicans have a vital interest in derailing efforts to bring about that change, I see no conservative principle at stake in either defending the status quo or an unrealistic call for the deportation of 11 million people that we know are going nowhere. As many conservatives and most of the business community have long argued, immigration is not only a response to economic reality, it continues to be one of America’s great strengths and should be encouraged rather than opposed.

However, I disagree with Goldberg when he says that Republicans should not consider the political implications of the issue. He’s right that votes on the bill should be determined by “the national interest” on such a major issue and that, as I noted in my piece, there is no guarantee that poor Hispanics will become Republicans just because the party backs immigration reform. But while the bill isn’t going to be sold to the party simply because it is good politics, the problem is that strident anti-immigration voices on the right have already put the GOP in a position where it must do something to rebrand itself on the issue in order to have a hope of turning the situation around.

Many Hispanics already believe that people like Steve Deace and Steve Stockman accurately reflect Republican sentiments about Hispanics. I don’t think this is true, but in the absence of a party decision to throw in their lot with those advocating immigration reform, it will be hard to claim they are wrong.

There is no way of telling what will happen in the next few years in American politics. Issues and events may arise to redefine party loyalties and shift votes in ways we don’t yet envision. It is possible that Republicans may thrive even if they oppose immigration reform and may decline even if they embrace it. But the level of vituperation from some on the right about the prospect of increasing the Hispanic vote is becoming so conspicuous that it is the sort of thing that could have greater resonance than even the outcome of the debate on the bill. My point is not just that it is wrong for Republicans to talk that way as well as bad politics, though it certainly is both those things, but that a failure to aggressively combat those statements will be so dangerous to the party with Hispanics (as well as many other Americans) that it won’t really matter whether the reform bill is stopped or not.

Republicans may not have to embrace immigration reform to survive and shouldn’t vote for the bill on any ground other than whether it is right. But if they don’t act to aggressively counter those intolerant voices on the right that are writing off any possibility of GOP outreach to Hispanics, they are in big trouble. If someone can find a better way of convincing Hispanics that Deace and Stockman don’t speak for the party other than by supporting this bill, I’d like to hear it. But in the absence of such a suggestion, I’d suggest they’d do well to start thinking about strengthening the gang of eight’s bill rather than torpedoing it.

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The Dark Side of the Immigration Debate

As I noted earlier today, Marco Rubio is taking the brunt of the backlash from some conservatives who oppose efforts to reform America’s failed immigration system. But whatever impact Rubio’s stand in favor of the bipartisan compromise bill currently being considered by the Senate has on his presidential prospects, Republicans should be worried about the tenor of the debate that is developing on the right about the legislation.

While I think GOP critics of the immigration reform bill that claim any path to citizenship for illegals undermines the rule of law have a weak case (since the status quo makes a mockery of the rule of law), it is at least an argument based in principle. But if the main theme of those trying to block reform becomes one that centers on the idea that illegals that become citizens will by themselves tip the political balance of the country toward Democrats, as talk show host Steve Deace writes today in Politico, then the problem is not so much Rubio’s as it is the party as a whole. It is a short leap from that assertion to one of general resentment of a national demographic shift in which the percentage of Hispanics has risen. Loose talk along these lines has become endemic in some quarters of the right and it is time for leading Republicans—including those who disagree with Rubio on the reform bill—to stamp it out before it saddles the GOP with liberal attacks that won’t be easily answered by the usual (and generally correct) rejoinder about media bias.

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As I noted earlier today, Marco Rubio is taking the brunt of the backlash from some conservatives who oppose efforts to reform America’s failed immigration system. But whatever impact Rubio’s stand in favor of the bipartisan compromise bill currently being considered by the Senate has on his presidential prospects, Republicans should be worried about the tenor of the debate that is developing on the right about the legislation.

While I think GOP critics of the immigration reform bill that claim any path to citizenship for illegals undermines the rule of law have a weak case (since the status quo makes a mockery of the rule of law), it is at least an argument based in principle. But if the main theme of those trying to block reform becomes one that centers on the idea that illegals that become citizens will by themselves tip the political balance of the country toward Democrats, as talk show host Steve Deace writes today in Politico, then the problem is not so much Rubio’s as it is the party as a whole. It is a short leap from that assertion to one of general resentment of a national demographic shift in which the percentage of Hispanics has risen. Loose talk along these lines has become endemic in some quarters of the right and it is time for leading Republicans—including those who disagree with Rubio on the reform bill—to stamp it out before it saddles the GOP with liberal attacks that won’t be easily answered by the usual (and generally correct) rejoinder about media bias.

Deace’s main theme is that Rubio is toast in the Republican presidential nomination contest because anti-immigration sentiment is so strong on the right that it renders him an untouchable. We’ll get the conclusive verdict on that prediction three years from now, but I think that assumption is about as reliable as the one many conservatives (including this writer) made two years ago about Mitt Romney’s ObamaCare problem being an obstacle to his nomination in 2012 in a GOP in which Tea Party activists had a huge say in the outcome. Of course, Romney went hard right on immigration, but if Deace thinks that was why he was able to best candidates like Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich (both of whom had notably more liberal positions on immigration) then he was watching a different contest than the rest of us.

But far more problematic than Deace’s premature obituary for Rubio’s presidential hopes is his prediction that granting legal status to people who have been in this country for many years will doom the Republican Party in the Southwest. He quotes Texas Representative Steve Stockman as saying “you can kiss my state of Texas goodbye (for Republicans) as well as Arizona and Florida. It will be just like what happened in California after the ’86 amnesty.” The assumption that any growth in the Hispanic vote may benefit Democrats is not unfounded, especially since Democrats have shown themselves to be advocates for immigrant rights while a large portion of the Republican Party has taken positions that are rooted in hostility to immigrants.

You don’t have to be part of the liberal media establishment to understand that if Republicans move from talking about their objections to rewarding people for illegal behavior to yapping about how the increase in Hispanic voters needs to be curbed, this will be interpreted as reflecting bias.

It should be noted that Stockman’s claim that California turned blue because of the 1986 immigration bill (which granted a path to citizenship for illegals but didn’t provide effective border control) is, at best, an exaggeration. It may be that a lot of former illegals became registered Democrats, but the collapse of the GOP in Ronald Reagan’s home base was not purely the result of immigration. But even if we focus solely on racial demographics, the problem was a failure to appeal to legal Hispanics, not the small percentage that became citizens after being illegal.

It is true that, as was the case nationally, Mitt Romney won a majority of white voters in California in last year’s election. The ability of President Obama and other Democrats to get the lion’s share of the African American and Hispanic vote swung the election. That’s a fact that can’t be denied. America is becoming more racially diverse and that is not going to be altered by a bill or political argument. But if the Republican reaction to this is focused more on trying to prevent more Hispanics from eventually becoming voters than on trying to sell their conservative values and ideas to this population, then triumphalist predictions of permanent Democratic rule on the left will turn out to be true.

Forget about what this means for Rubio, whose Hispanic background and support for immigration reform could potentially give Republicans a chance to eat into the Democrats’ advantage in 2016 if he runs for president. This kind of loose talk about preventing Hispanics from voting from people like Deace and Stockman is political poison to every Republican candidate in the country.

What those who purport to speak for conservatives on this issue have to remember is that a strategy based on telling Hispanics to go to the devil is a formula for perpetual Republican defeat. It is true, as they claim, that merely embracing immigration reform by itself will not transform Hispanics from being part of the liberal base into swing voters. But any effort to do so must start there. Deace, Stockman and those who agree with them can claim they aren’t against Hispanics per se, but few Hispanics will believe them if they continue to speak as if they agree with the left that demography is political destiny.

Republicans have a tough but not impossible task ahead of them if they intend to claim a greater share of this increasingly crucial segment of the electorate. As more Hispanics became part of the middle class and reject the idea that their security is grounded in preservation of the excesses of the welfare state, there is plenty of room for GOP growth there, especially if they can produce leaders who can appeal to more than just your average Iowa Republican caucus-goer. But that effort will be doomed if Republicans allow their party to be branded as the one that is willing to do anything to prevent the prospect of more Hispanic voters.

Marco Rubio may not be the future of the Republican Party. But if it is to have a future, Republicans must reject those voices urging them to turn their backs on Hispanics.

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The GOP’s Real Hispanic Peril

The debate about immigration reform was already heating up on the right even before the revelation that the Boston Marathon bombing gave an excuse to some in Congress to put off consideration of the topic. As Seth noted, Senator Rand Paul’s decision to pull back on the issue makes it possible the topic could be used by the libertarian leader or some other conservative as an issue against gang-of-eight member Senator Marco Rubio. And with the influential Heritage Foundation’s new leader, former Senator Jim Demint, going all out to stop the bipartisan compromise that Rubio is fronting, getting the bill through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will not be easy.

Reform advocates did get a boost yesterday when Representative Paul Ryan indicated his support of the underlying principles of the bill even if he did not formally endorse it. Ryan has a great deal of influence with House Republicans as well as Speaker John Boehner, but his chances of rallying the GOP against DeMint’s push won’t be helped by a Politico feature that argues that the passage of the bill effectively ensures that the Democrats won’t be losing any national elections in the foreseeable future. The piece argues that if the 11 million illegal immigrants take advantage of the path to citizenship offered by the Senate bill, the reform will produce an “electoral bonanza for Democrats and cripple Republican prospects in many states they now win easily.”

This is exactly the kind of talk designed to scare the GOP grass roots into insensibility, since many of them already believe that a biased liberal media, voter fraud and the generous federal patronage plums and benefits have created an uphill slog for any Republican in a national election. But while the logic of this assumption of a windfall of potential Democratic voters can’t be ignored, Republicans would be foolish to assume that it makes sense for them to stonewall immigration reform. If they truly wish to continue as a national political force and as a natural party of government they must reject the idea that keeping more Hispanics out of the United States is their only hope of survival.

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The debate about immigration reform was already heating up on the right even before the revelation that the Boston Marathon bombing gave an excuse to some in Congress to put off consideration of the topic. As Seth noted, Senator Rand Paul’s decision to pull back on the issue makes it possible the topic could be used by the libertarian leader or some other conservative as an issue against gang-of-eight member Senator Marco Rubio. And with the influential Heritage Foundation’s new leader, former Senator Jim Demint, going all out to stop the bipartisan compromise that Rubio is fronting, getting the bill through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will not be easy.

Reform advocates did get a boost yesterday when Representative Paul Ryan indicated his support of the underlying principles of the bill even if he did not formally endorse it. Ryan has a great deal of influence with House Republicans as well as Speaker John Boehner, but his chances of rallying the GOP against DeMint’s push won’t be helped by a Politico feature that argues that the passage of the bill effectively ensures that the Democrats won’t be losing any national elections in the foreseeable future. The piece argues that if the 11 million illegal immigrants take advantage of the path to citizenship offered by the Senate bill, the reform will produce an “electoral bonanza for Democrats and cripple Republican prospects in many states they now win easily.”

This is exactly the kind of talk designed to scare the GOP grass roots into insensibility, since many of them already believe that a biased liberal media, voter fraud and the generous federal patronage plums and benefits have created an uphill slog for any Republican in a national election. But while the logic of this assumption of a windfall of potential Democratic voters can’t be ignored, Republicans would be foolish to assume that it makes sense for them to stonewall immigration reform. If they truly wish to continue as a national political force and as a natural party of government they must reject the idea that keeping more Hispanics out of the United States is their only hope of survival.

Given voter trends in recent elections, the addition of all the currently illegal immigrants in this country to the ranks of those legally entitled to vote gives Democrats a clear advantage. The already considerable Democratic edge among Hispanics has widened in recent years as Republicans increasingly focused on the danger posed to the United States by the presence of so many illegals. Mitt Romney’s decision to use immigration as the one issue on which he could out-flank his primary opponents on the right helped him win the GOP presidential nomination this year but hurt him in the general election. This meant that a demographic sector that a pro-immigrant Republican like George W. Bush had been able to put into play less than a decade ago became almost as Democratic in 2012 as African-Americans or Jews. If one assumes that this partisan divide will hold up, that means immigration reform will simply worsen the GOP’s chances in future elections and probably ensure that some competitive states like Florida or Colorado become deep blue.

But as much as these figures set off visions of doom among Republicans and inspire joy among Democrats, it isn’t as simple as that.

It should be pointed out that assumptions about future voting patterns on the part of those offered the citizenship track are pure speculation. As Politico acknowledged, voter turnout rates among Hispanic immigrants are already low. Those numbers will probably go even lower if some of the illegals become citizens.

Yet if George W. Bush could win 44 percent of Hispanics in 2004, it is not unreasonable to think a pro-immigrant Republican could do nearly as well in the future, even if he isn’t himself a Hispanic like Rubio.

Though immigrant communities have historically tended to back parties whose appeal is based on distribution of government benefits, any objective analysis of the last two presidential elections shows that it was the GOP’s predilection for rhetoric bashing the illegals that helped turn a natural Democratic edge among Hispanics to an overwhelming advantage. That means it stands to reason that if Republicans back immigration reform, that will help win them back some Hispanic votes. Even more importantly, it would mean that the issue would be taken off the table in 2016 and every subsequent election, effectively taking away the Democrats key talking point in rallying Hispanic support.

Democrats are right to think that Hispanics won’t forget the issue in the future even after their concerns have been allayed. But it will allow Republicans, especially those who fought for a more rational and fair immigration policy, to make their case to Hispanics with some hope of success.

It is true that Republicans can’t count on the innate social conservatism of many Hispanics to win them over. Nor can they afford to simply sit back and wait as Hispanic immigrants become assimilated into American society and evolve into a group that will see a party whose credo is defense of liberty and limited government as one that will suit their improved economic circumstances the way every white ethnic immigrant community, with the exception of European Jews, has done.

But any idea that stonewalling immigration reform and continuing to talk about deporting 11 million illegals is a coherent general election strategy for the future is the real GOP delusion. Whether or not those illegals—whom some conservative wags have dubbed “undocumented Democrats”—ever get the vote, legal Hispanics are going to make up an increasingly larger percentage of the national electorate. Though there are no guarantees that a pro-immigration stand will win their hearts or minds, there is one thing that is certain. A Republican Party that echoes the rhetoric of some on the right about immigration reform representing the “end of America” because of the influx of non-whites into the country will ensure that subsequent generations of Hispanics will never consider voting for the GOP.

If Republicans want to get Hispanic votes, they must start by realizing that talk about “amnesty” rather than opportunity is their party’s death knell. That’s something Rubio and Ryan seem to understand. But if the GOP simply regards immigration reform the way they do statehood for the District of Columbia (which would add two more Democrats to the Senate and another to the House), they will be denying themselves a chance to win elections in the future.

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Conservatives and Immigration

The early indications are that President Obama may not seek to torpedo the bipartisan immigration reform proposal put forward yesterday by six U.S. senators. Having wisely put their plan before the public before the president could grandstand on the issue and continue to use it as a partisan cudgel to attack Republicans, the group led by Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, John McCain and Marco Rubio made it difficult for the president to avoid endorsing their efforts even if he can be counted on to push for a more liberal approach than GOP members of the reform coalition will accept. But if Obama keeps his promise to Schumer and Durbin and doesn’t try to torpedo their scheme in the hope of making political hay out of a dispute with the GOP over its terms, the real drama will be on the right as conservatives begin their own debate on the issue.

Pushback against the proposal from the right wasn’t long in coming. Rush Limbaugh denounced it on the radio, as did many others who helped sink previous reform plans by branding them as “amnesty.” Even more troubling was the negative reaction on Fox News from commentators Jonah Goldberg and Charles Krauthammer, who both poured cold water on the bipartisan scheme by claiming that its promise of border control and enforcement of the laws was not credible and that, as had been the case after Ronald Reagan’s try at dealing with the problem, illegal immigration would continue unabated. Others took on the rationale that Republicans should back the bill in order to get more Hispanic votes. Heather Mac Donald wrote in National Review to rightly point out (as Seth did last year) that many Hispanics like liberal policies and are unlikely to switch parties even if the GOP stopped positioning itself as the anti-immigrant party.

These are reasonable arguments but they are not persuasive. Republicans ought to get behind the immigration compromise not because it will help them politically but because opposition to it is bad public policy.

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The early indications are that President Obama may not seek to torpedo the bipartisan immigration reform proposal put forward yesterday by six U.S. senators. Having wisely put their plan before the public before the president could grandstand on the issue and continue to use it as a partisan cudgel to attack Republicans, the group led by Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, John McCain and Marco Rubio made it difficult for the president to avoid endorsing their efforts even if he can be counted on to push for a more liberal approach than GOP members of the reform coalition will accept. But if Obama keeps his promise to Schumer and Durbin and doesn’t try to torpedo their scheme in the hope of making political hay out of a dispute with the GOP over its terms, the real drama will be on the right as conservatives begin their own debate on the issue.

Pushback against the proposal from the right wasn’t long in coming. Rush Limbaugh denounced it on the radio, as did many others who helped sink previous reform plans by branding them as “amnesty.” Even more troubling was the negative reaction on Fox News from commentators Jonah Goldberg and Charles Krauthammer, who both poured cold water on the bipartisan scheme by claiming that its promise of border control and enforcement of the laws was not credible and that, as had been the case after Ronald Reagan’s try at dealing with the problem, illegal immigration would continue unabated. Others took on the rationale that Republicans should back the bill in order to get more Hispanic votes. Heather Mac Donald wrote in National Review to rightly point out (as Seth did last year) that many Hispanics like liberal policies and are unlikely to switch parties even if the GOP stopped positioning itself as the anti-immigrant party.

These are reasonable arguments but they are not persuasive. Republicans ought to get behind the immigration compromise not because it will help them politically but because opposition to it is bad public policy.

A considerable portion of the conservative movement has always supported a more rational policy on immigration that recognized the need to do something to bring millions of illegal immigrants out of the shadows. But most on the right have treated this issue as one in which the rule of law was at stake and saw any proposal that called for giving legal status to the more than 11 million illegals already here as an amnesty bill. Opposition to rewarding law-breakers is rational and understandable. But since, as Rush noted yesterday, nobody on the right is seriously talking about trying to deport all of those people (something that would, in any case, be virtually impossible anyway), it is hard to understand how a refusal to create a process by which the illegals could become documented is a defense of the rule of law. As Marco Rubio has argued, what we have now is de facto amnesty.

Charles Krauthammer’s objections are also not to be dismissed. After decades of neglect, there is good reason to be skeptical of any federal commitment to secure the border. But the strength of the bipartisan proposal is that this is probably our best chance to force Washington to deal with the issue that we are ever likely to get. Since the implementation of the plans for giving legal status to the illegals is dependent on concrete steps toward making it far more difficult to cross the border with impunity, the administration and its liberal supporters in Congress have an incentive to acquiesce to more security and to see that the law is enforced. Those who rightly complain about the porous nature of the border need to understand that absent a comprehensive immigration deal there isn’t likely to be any funding or backing either now or in the future for the kind of measures that are needed to tighten up the border.

That said, the idea that Republicans are trolling for Hispanic votes on this issue is troubling. Treating the issue as if it were a simple transaction in which the GOP would flip on immigration in order to purchase Hispanic votes is misleading and inaccurate.

No matter what happens in this debate, many Hispanic voters will not forget the inflammatory rhetoric about illegal immigrants used by Republican candidates like Mitt Romney. Were Republicans to approach this matter in such a cynical manner it would do them little good politically. Nor will Republicans ever be able to outbid the Democrats when it comes to offering more government benefits and entitlements.

The best Republicans can hope for here is to take the issue off the table and therefore deny Democrats the ability to falsely claim that they are the defenders of the immigrants. Dropping their opposition to reform won’t put the GOP on an even playing field with Democrats for Hispanics, but it will give them a chance to begin making inroads. Republicans need to recognize that pushing illegals to get on the citizenship track, pay taxes and get ahead like all other previous immigrant groups is good for America and the GOP. If they do, they will prosper and become, like their predecessors from Ireland, Germany and a hundred other places, the sort of people who will be inclined to embrace the conservative doctrine of free markets and limited government.

Leaving the Hispanic vote aside, the rationale for Republican support for immigration reform is actually about a core principle of conservatism: a recognition that government can’t try to use legislation to override basic economics. So long as there are jobs in the United States that Americans are not filling and there is a large population of unemployed workers just outside our border, those people will be finding a way to get to those jobs no matter what the laws say. It is far better to accept this and accommodate the laws to economic reality than to attempt the opposite.

Moreover, despite the issues in some border states where a large population of illegals has created serious problems, we also need to understand that the overwhelming majority of illegal immigrants are here to work, not to try to collect welfare benefits. These are the sorts of people America has always needed and welcomed, and the idea that they are a threat to our way of life is grounded in inaccurate ideas about their role in our society and the economy. Worries about maintaining a large unassimilated population are best addressed through reform measures that encourage the learning of English in order to get on a path to citizenship, not empty talk about treating the immigrants as lawbreakers.

Those who refuse to contemplate any policy on illegal immigration other than punishment and stricter border security are living in a fantasy world. It is long past time for Republicans to stop trying to pretend that there is any solution to deal with millions of illegals other than to accept them. Any deal that strengthens border security and penalizes the illegals is the best conservatives will ever get. The GOP should embrace it and then move on to other, more important fights.

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Does Obama Want an Immigration Bill?

Last week I wrote about the effort by a bipartisan group of eight senators to come up with a workable compromise on immigration reform that could pass Congress. The group collectively has enough clout to give them cover on both the left and right flanks of their parties to move a bill that would both address the need to control the border and provide a path to legality for the approximately 11 million illegals currently in the country. At that time, the group was planning on announcing their joint proposal this coming Friday. But the wild card was President Obama’s scheduled speech tomorrow in Las Vegas, where he plans to discuss immigration. The concern was that if the president staked out a more extreme position on the issue and used it–as he has throughout his time in office–to demagogue the issue in order to demonize Republicans to Hispanics, it would blow up any chance for bipartisan compromise.

But the group of eight decided not to wait to see if Obama would sabotage their efforts. They released a copy of their memo of understanding over the weekend and plan to formally present it to the press today. While the process of translating this memo into a piece of legislation will not be easy and will require more compromises from both sides of the aisle, it does raise the stakes for the president. Rather than just a hazy prospect of bipartisan compromise, the announcement presents a concrete option for reform that has not been previously possible. That means that if the president doesn’t get behind it or at least get out of its way, it will be the White House and not congressional Republicans or immigration opponents who will be responsible for its failure. Obama’s comments this week may answer the question as to whether he is actually interested in progress on the issue or whether he is uninterested in it except as a cudgel with which to beat his political opponents.

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Last week I wrote about the effort by a bipartisan group of eight senators to come up with a workable compromise on immigration reform that could pass Congress. The group collectively has enough clout to give them cover on both the left and right flanks of their parties to move a bill that would both address the need to control the border and provide a path to legality for the approximately 11 million illegals currently in the country. At that time, the group was planning on announcing their joint proposal this coming Friday. But the wild card was President Obama’s scheduled speech tomorrow in Las Vegas, where he plans to discuss immigration. The concern was that if the president staked out a more extreme position on the issue and used it–as he has throughout his time in office–to demagogue the issue in order to demonize Republicans to Hispanics, it would blow up any chance for bipartisan compromise.

But the group of eight decided not to wait to see if Obama would sabotage their efforts. They released a copy of their memo of understanding over the weekend and plan to formally present it to the press today. While the process of translating this memo into a piece of legislation will not be easy and will require more compromises from both sides of the aisle, it does raise the stakes for the president. Rather than just a hazy prospect of bipartisan compromise, the announcement presents a concrete option for reform that has not been previously possible. That means that if the president doesn’t get behind it or at least get out of its way, it will be the White House and not congressional Republicans or immigration opponents who will be responsible for its failure. Obama’s comments this week may answer the question as to whether he is actually interested in progress on the issue or whether he is uninterested in it except as a cudgel with which to beat his political opponents.

The group, which is composed of Republicans John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and Jeff Flake and Democrats Charles Schumer, Robert Menendez, Richard Durbin and Michael Bennett, has created a document that is a remarkable achievement and deserving of the broadest possible political support. It is premised on securing the country’s borders and not giving undue advantages to those who have come into the country illegally. But it also recognizes reality in that it proposes that we drop the fiction that illegal immigrants can be deported en masse or that there is some benefit to the nation in allowing them to continue to exist outside the legal and economic framework of the nation. This is long overdue and, by presenting a way for illegals to eventually become citizens without putting them ahead of those who apply legally, it could satisfy many, if not most liberals and conservatives.

But because it is a compromise, it still leaves open the possibility that extremists will seek to sink it. It is a given that some House Republicans will oppose anything that can be branded as “amnesty” for illegals. But with staunch conservatives like Rubio (who rightly argues that the status quo has created a different and even worse form of amnesty) and Representative Paul Ryan behind it, as well as growing chorus of other Republicans who understand the party must attempt to reach out to Hispanics, there is good reason to believe it could pass.

Yet while it was conservatives who spiked President Bush’s principled effort to pass immigration reform, it is now liberals—and specifically the liberal in the White House—who is the greatest threat to this effort.

President Obama ought to be behind this effort since it gives him the chance to help pass a bill that he could rightly claim to be an important part of his legacy. Moreover, since his re-election he ought to have less of a motive to avoid resolution of the issue. However, everything the president has done since November would lead one to believe that he has no interest in working with Republicans even if it meant achieving one of the goals that he has set for his administration.

Just as he seemed to want to blow up a fiscal cliff compromise with inflammatory remarks given even while his representatives were negotiating with Republicans on the legislation that eventually passed, it is entirely possible that he would prefer that the bipartisan compromise proposed by the eight senators fail so he can continue blaming the GOP for being mean to Hispanics. His total warfare strategy against Republicans seems aimed at winning the 2014 midterms so he can have complete Democrat control in the following two years and a blank check to enact far-reaching liberal legislation. Thus, he may actually think that sabotaging a bipartisan deal on immigration now will make it easier for him to get a far more liberal bill that will de-emphasize border security and penalties on illegals in 2015.

Such jaw-dropping cynicism is entirely in character with the president’s record. It would be a stab in the back for Schumer, Menendez, Durbin and Bennett. But it would also show Hispanics (who may be forgiven for wondering why the president never tried to pass immigration reform from 2009-11 when he had control of both Houses of Congress) that their supposed defender is more interested in playing politics than in protecting the interests of immigrants.

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Will Obama Sabotage Immigration Deal?

Eight years after Congressional opponents pronounced President George W. Bush’s immigration reform plan dead on arrival, there appears to be a real opportunity that a far-reaching proposal on the subject will pass the Senate.  As the Washington Post reports, a working group of senators, including heavy hitters from both sides of the aisle, are close to an agreement on the principles for changing the country’s immigration laws. According to the Post, the proposal, which could be announced as early as a week from today will include the following:

The working group’s principles would address stricter border control, better employer verification of workers’ immigration status, new visas for temporary agriculture workers and expanding the number of visas available for skilled engineers. They would also include a call to help young people who were brought to the country illegally as children by their parents become citizens and to normalize the status of the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants.

The plan, which is the result of talks including Democrats Robert Menendez, Richard Dubin, Charles Schumer, Michael Bennett and Republicans Marco Rubio, Lindsay Graham, John McCain and Jeff Flake. While there are still some disagreements to be ironed out since Rubio believes that illegals should have to wait for citizenship until those who arrived legally are accommodated while Democrats disagree, this may be the best chance to pass a bill dealing with the problem in decades. But there is one potential obstacle: President Obama.

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Eight years after Congressional opponents pronounced President George W. Bush’s immigration reform plan dead on arrival, there appears to be a real opportunity that a far-reaching proposal on the subject will pass the Senate.  As the Washington Post reports, a working group of senators, including heavy hitters from both sides of the aisle, are close to an agreement on the principles for changing the country’s immigration laws. According to the Post, the proposal, which could be announced as early as a week from today will include the following:

The working group’s principles would address stricter border control, better employer verification of workers’ immigration status, new visas for temporary agriculture workers and expanding the number of visas available for skilled engineers. They would also include a call to help young people who were brought to the country illegally as children by their parents become citizens and to normalize the status of the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants.

The plan, which is the result of talks including Democrats Robert Menendez, Richard Dubin, Charles Schumer, Michael Bennett and Republicans Marco Rubio, Lindsay Graham, John McCain and Jeff Flake. While there are still some disagreements to be ironed out since Rubio believes that illegals should have to wait for citizenship until those who arrived legally are accommodated while Democrats disagree, this may be the best chance to pass a bill dealing with the problem in decades. But there is one potential obstacle: President Obama.

The question facing Senate negotiators this weekend is whether their hard work crafting a bipartisan compromise will be blown up by the president’s determination to exploit the issue for political purposes. Though he has said that immigration reform is a priority, the senators may be holding their breath this weekend to see if Obama’s scheduled speech in Las Vegas next week will reinforce their efforts or making it more difficult for Republicans to work with the Democrats on the legislation.

Though the president spent most of his first term posing somewhat disingenuously as an advocate of balanced approaches on the issues and working for bipartisan consensus. But since his re-election he has dropped that pretense and adopted a more straightforward strategy aimed at demonizing Republicans and branding them as extremists. Since he knows it is more in the interests of his party to ensure that Hispanics believe all Republicans are enemies of immigrants than to pass a common sense bill, it would be entirely in character for him to spend the upcoming weeks blasting the GOP on the issue rather than piping down just at the moment when a deal is in the offing.

Rubio’s work in paving the way for Republican acceptance of a reform bill has been exemplary. As the Huffington Post reported, Rubio has taken to the airwaves speaking on conservative talk shows and has, surprisingly, received a good reception even from heretofore-staunch opponents of any solution other than the fantasy of deporting 12 million illegals. With the support of other conservatives like Paul Ryan, his initiative stands a good chance of passing in the House, provided the Senate has already adopted it.

But even Democrats are worried that Obama’s slash and burn tactics will turn immigration into a partisan issue and make it impossible to carry through both Houses of Congress.

As the Post notes:

Some Democrats in the House, including Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.), have cautioned that the White House could harm the bid for bipartisan support if it acts too aggressively by authoring its own legislative proposal.

But left-wing activists whose primary purpose is to recruit Hispanics to vote for the Democrats aren’t the least interested in Gutierrez’s legitimate concerns. Rather than urging, as they should, that Obama stand aside and let this be a bipartisan compromise, some union hacks like the Service Employees International Union’s Eliseo Medina are egging the president on to grandstand on the issue.

Rubio has been making progress towards persuading conservatives that their worries about “amnesty” are wrongheaded since the existing mismanaged and inefficient system neither protects our borders nor deals fairly with immigrants. He’s right. Republicans should understand that the current mess harms our economy and undermines support for the rule of law. A bill along the outlines that the Senate group is working on is long overdue. Bringing undocumented aliens into the system is good public policy and it is also good politics for Republicans who need to stop playing the anti-immigrant card as Mitt Romney did last year.

But after years of advocating for genuine compromise with Republicans on tough issues, it’s by no means clear whether the president has any interest in seizing a chance to pass immigration reform if it means a bipartisan deal.

The president said last week that he’s not to blame for the lack of communication between the White House and Congress. But the fiscal cliff agreement brokered by Vice President Biden illustrated that his boss was neither interested in nor capable of working with Congress. At times, the president seemed to be working to undermine the deal that eventually passed with inflammatory rhetoric intended to make conservatives dig in rather than to bend a bit. Should the president continue to play partisan politics on immigration just at the moment when he ought to be working quietly behind the scenes to get Republicans on board, it will be the immigrants who will suffer. If immigration reform fails again this year, the likely culprit will not be a faction of conservative hardliners but a liberal president more interested in exploiting Hispanic fears than getting a bill passed.

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Can the GOP Change on Immigration?

Post-mortems on President Obama’s election victory have harped on his dominant hold on the Hispanic vote. That has, in turn, led to speculation about the Republican Party changing its tune on immigration, an issue which is widely — and probably quite rightly — viewed as a deal breaker for the majority of Hispanic voters when GOP candidates ask for their support. To that end, several prominent Republican leaders, such as House Speaker John Boehner and conservative thinkers like Charles Krauthammer, have suggested a course change for Republicans that would enable them to avoid being characterized as anti-immigrant and, by extension, anti-Hispanic.

While I’m far from sure that at this late date it will be possible for Republicans to make up the ground they’ve lost in the last decade with Hispanics by flipping on the issue, I think those advising a course change are correct. President George W. Bush was right to champion reform legislation on this issue, and his party’s failure to support him was wrong as well as a lost opportunity that may not recur. Most of those who come to this country illegally are merely seeking work, and it is high time that most conservatives stop acting as if illegals are a grave threat to the country. Nevertheless, any expectation that the bulk of party members will change their stance on the issue is probably unrealistic. The reason why most of the GOP presidential candidates pandered to the right on this issue is no mystery. Even though it is political poison for the party’s future, most in the GOP grassroots want no part of any plan to grant amnesty to the approximately 12 million illegals in the country.

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Post-mortems on President Obama’s election victory have harped on his dominant hold on the Hispanic vote. That has, in turn, led to speculation about the Republican Party changing its tune on immigration, an issue which is widely — and probably quite rightly — viewed as a deal breaker for the majority of Hispanic voters when GOP candidates ask for their support. To that end, several prominent Republican leaders, such as House Speaker John Boehner and conservative thinkers like Charles Krauthammer, have suggested a course change for Republicans that would enable them to avoid being characterized as anti-immigrant and, by extension, anti-Hispanic.

While I’m far from sure that at this late date it will be possible for Republicans to make up the ground they’ve lost in the last decade with Hispanics by flipping on the issue, I think those advising a course change are correct. President George W. Bush was right to champion reform legislation on this issue, and his party’s failure to support him was wrong as well as a lost opportunity that may not recur. Most of those who come to this country illegally are merely seeking work, and it is high time that most conservatives stop acting as if illegals are a grave threat to the country. Nevertheless, any expectation that the bulk of party members will change their stance on the issue is probably unrealistic. The reason why most of the GOP presidential candidates pandered to the right on this issue is no mystery. Even though it is political poison for the party’s future, most in the GOP grassroots want no part of any plan to grant amnesty to the approximately 12 million illegals in the country.

There was a reason why, of all issues, the generally moderate Mitt Romney chose immigration as the one on which he would tack hardest to the right. In the one instance where his pose as a “severely conservative” Republican seemed to resonate, Romney attacked Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich for their more liberal stands on the issue. The tactic worked, and even though Romney’s stand shifted a bit to the center as the campaign wore on — by accepting a modified version of the DREAM Act, which would grant a path to citizenship for children brought here illegally but subsequently served in the U.S. military — until November 6, there was little sign that his party was ready to reassess its position.

In part, this reluctance to shift on immigration stems from the fact that a great many Americans believe the starting point to any discussion of the issue ought to be defense of the rule of law. Though some of those who obsess about the issue have blown the dangers that stem from immigration out of proportion and sound like 19th century “Know Nothings,” most Republican primary voters who care about the issue take a less extreme position. They believe the idea that the United States ought not to be able to control its borders is ludicrous. Treating law breaking in the form of illegal immigration as nothing more serious than a traffic ticket is offensive.

That’s why strong majorities of Americans polled on the topic generally support the controversial Arizona law that was both mischaracterized and condemned by President Obama in the second presidential debate. There’s nothing unconstitutional or unreasonable about inquiring about the immigration status of someone who has already been arrested on a different charge.

The plain fact is that the 12 million illegals that are already here are not going to be rounded up and deported. The government has neither the resources nor the will do so, and expectations that this will happen or, as Romney ludicrously put it, they will “self deport,” is detached from reality. Sooner or later the government will have to recognize their status and give them a path to legality, if not citizenship.

But anyone who thinks most Republican voters are prepared to tolerate a shift on the issue in the immediate future is dreaming. While there has always been a faction of leaders and thinkers that supported a strategy based on extending rights to the illegals, the last two elections show that this group is a minority within the GOP.

It should also be acknowledged that such efforts are fated to be largely futile. As Seth wrote, Hispanics are not going to be impressed if they think Republicans are cynically pandering to them. A large portion of the Jewish community continues to think of the GOP the same way their grandparents thought of it: as a vestige of an old country-club elite that harbors anti-Semitic attitudes. This may be an almost deranged and twisted view of reality, since contemporary Republicans tend to be even more sympathetic to Israel and Jewish concerns than Democrats, yet it nevertheless persists. But the bad taste from the harsh rhetoric on immigration from Republicans in recent years will not be washed away any more easily, even though a change of tune from some in the party on the issue won’t hurt. A possible Marco Rubio presidential candidacy in 2016 would also have an effect on the Hispanic vote.

But assuming that it will be easy for Republican leaders to accomplish this without a very strong pushback from their voters is unrealistic. As much as a GOP shift on amnesty would be smart politics and probably good public policy, it’s not likely to happen.

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Republican Future is Still Bright

Democrats have a right to crow this morning. President Obama won re-election with a narrow, yet decisive win in the popular vote and a large margin in the Electoral College, in which he won every tossup up state with the exception of North Carolina. Though they were expected to lose seats in the Senate, Democrats gained two. The Republicans did hold onto the House of Representatives, which means the status quo of the last two years in Washington is preserved. But those trying to diminish the scope of the Democrats’ victory are wasting their time. For an incumbent president to win re-election despite presiding over a poor economy and few accomplishments other than decidedly unpopular measures like ObamaCare, is an astonishing feat of political skill. It was also a reflection of the changing nature of the electorate that now skews more toward the Democrats than many of us thought. Liberal pundits like Nate Silver who insisted that the polls were right to show a Democratic advantage were right about that and I was wrong, as were most conservative writers.

But to assume, as some inevitably will, that this means the Republicans are more or less doomed to a cycle of unending defeats in the future is a mistake that neither party should make. Though talk about President Obama not having a mandate is meaningless since winning is the only mandate any president ever needs, Republicans are by no means painted into a corner from which they cannot extricate themselves in future contests. The 2012 election was about Barack Obama and preserving his historic legacy. Yet second terms are generally miserable affairs for presidents, and Obama will likely prove no exception, especially with a Republican House to investigate scandals. For all of the problems that this election revealed to the Republicans about Hispanics, women, and working class voters, they are still positioned to make a strong showing in the 2014 midterms and to take back the White House in 2016.

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Democrats have a right to crow this morning. President Obama won re-election with a narrow, yet decisive win in the popular vote and a large margin in the Electoral College, in which he won every tossup up state with the exception of North Carolina. Though they were expected to lose seats in the Senate, Democrats gained two. The Republicans did hold onto the House of Representatives, which means the status quo of the last two years in Washington is preserved. But those trying to diminish the scope of the Democrats’ victory are wasting their time. For an incumbent president to win re-election despite presiding over a poor economy and few accomplishments other than decidedly unpopular measures like ObamaCare, is an astonishing feat of political skill. It was also a reflection of the changing nature of the electorate that now skews more toward the Democrats than many of us thought. Liberal pundits like Nate Silver who insisted that the polls were right to show a Democratic advantage were right about that and I was wrong, as were most conservative writers.

But to assume, as some inevitably will, that this means the Republicans are more or less doomed to a cycle of unending defeats in the future is a mistake that neither party should make. Though talk about President Obama not having a mandate is meaningless since winning is the only mandate any president ever needs, Republicans are by no means painted into a corner from which they cannot extricate themselves in future contests. The 2012 election was about Barack Obama and preserving his historic legacy. Yet second terms are generally miserable affairs for presidents, and Obama will likely prove no exception, especially with a Republican House to investigate scandals. For all of the problems that this election revealed to the Republicans about Hispanics, women, and working class voters, they are still positioned to make a strong showing in the 2014 midterms and to take back the White House in 2016.

The big mistake most political analysts tend to make is to assume that the political landscape of one election will be much the same in future contests. It’s true that, much to the consternation of conservatives, the layout of the electorate this year was very similar to that of 2008. But the common denominator in those two elections was Barack Obama, and he won’t be on the ballot again. It bears repeating that many conservatives allowed their own dim view of his policies and personality to underestimate the president’s appeal to the voters. Americans were rightly pleased with themselves for electing an African-American and a clear majority was not prepared to make him a one-term president, in spite of his shortcomings. No possible Democratic successor will have the same hold on the public’s goodwill. Nor, despite the liberal tilt of the mainstream media, will any of them, including Hillary Clinton, be able to count on the kind of supportive press coverage that Obama got. Nor will they be able to run against the legacy of George W. Bush, the way only Obama could. At some point, even that well will run dry for the Democrats.

To state this is not to ignore the obvious problems that Republicans have with certain demographic groups.

As Seth wrote yesterday, the GOP has dug itself a hole with Hispanics from which it can’t completely extricate itself. Had the party embraced George W. Bush’s attempt to create a sensible program for immigration reform, that might have made things easier. But it wouldn’t change the fact that much of this community is solidly liberal on many issues. A candidate who would be able to make a credible appeal to Hispanics like Marco Rubio could undo a lot of the damage. That doesn’t mean the GOP is obligated to nominate a Hispanic in the next election cycle, but that it probably shouldn’t choose someone who chooses to make illegal immigration the issue on which they tack the farthest to the right, as Romney did.

It should also be pointed out that the Democratic effort to portray the GOP as the party of Tea Party extremism didn’t entirely succeed. The ideas of that movement are still powerful, but what Republicans must learn is to be more careful about the leaders it elevates from their ranks. More savvy operators like Marco Rubio will provide formidable opponents for the president and his successors. More Richard Mourdocks will produce more defeats. Ideological purity without common sense is a formula for political disaster.

For all the Democratic triumphalism that this election will produce, it will do the president’s party some good if they remember how close they came to losing, and that absent the president’s appeal they might not have prevailed. Though, as Ross Douthat wrote today in the New York Times, the Ronald Reagan coalition that led the GOP to victories in the past is no longer viable, the narrow margin for the Democrats in 2012 undermines any notion that a fundamental realignment has occurred. If Democrats tack to the left in the coming years, they will find that without a still charismatic and historic leader, their class warfare routine won’t play as well. Their party identification advantage will fade without Obama at the helm, as will the enthusiasm that only he can generate.

Just as important, in the coming years Democrats will be burdened by responsibility for all that the public doesn’t like about ObamaCare, which, thanks to the electorate and Chief Justice John Roberts’s cowardly vote switch, will now be implemented.

Fresh leadership (and the GOP has no shortage of bright young leaders) and the advantage of running against a Democratic Party that will have to take responsibility for the state of the country will put the Republicans in a good position to recoup their losses and to build on the nearly half of the country whose support they can already count on. Democrat who think yesterday’s results guarantee them anything in the future are setting up their party for a great fall. Any Republican inclined to despair today needs to take a deep breath and understand that the party’s future is actually quite bright.

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Can GOP Make Gains With Hispanic Voters?

Note that this Gallup/USA Today poll showing President Obama leading Mitt Romney among Hispanics, 66 percent to 25 percent, was taken before Obama issued his new deportation policy. So it doesn’t include the bounce Obama probably received after his announcement, and it was taken during a time when Hispanic leaders were openly frustrated with Obama’s inaction on immigration issues. That’s a lousy sign for Republicans, particularly because Romney receives the lowest percentage of Hispanic support out of any GOP presidential candidate since 1996:

Whatever the long-term prospects for the GOP, in this election year Obama is solidifying the big gains he scored among Hispanics in 2008. Surveys of voters as they left polling places then found that 67 percent of Latinos voted for him, up by double digits from Democrat John Kerry’s share four years earlier and about the same level of support he has now.

That advantage is increasingly powerful. An analysis of U.S. Census data by Mark Lopez of the non-partisan Pew Hispanic Center shows that the proportion of Latino eligible voters grew from 2008 to 2010 in seven of the 12 battleground states likely to determine November’s outcome — potentially a critical margin in a close election.

Meanwhile, the Republican share of the Latino vote continues to erode, from 44 percent for George W. Bush in 2004 to 31 percent for John McCain in 2008 to 25 percent in the survey for Romney. “We’ve seen a sharp drop-off … between 2004 and 2008,” acknowledges Ed Gillespie, a senior Romney adviser and former Republican Party national chairman. “It was a factor, obviously, in the margin of President Obama’s win. We do need to do better with Hispanic voters, and I think we can.”

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Note that this Gallup/USA Today poll showing President Obama leading Mitt Romney among Hispanics, 66 percent to 25 percent, was taken before Obama issued his new deportation policy. So it doesn’t include the bounce Obama probably received after his announcement, and it was taken during a time when Hispanic leaders were openly frustrated with Obama’s inaction on immigration issues. That’s a lousy sign for Republicans, particularly because Romney receives the lowest percentage of Hispanic support out of any GOP presidential candidate since 1996:

Whatever the long-term prospects for the GOP, in this election year Obama is solidifying the big gains he scored among Hispanics in 2008. Surveys of voters as they left polling places then found that 67 percent of Latinos voted for him, up by double digits from Democrat John Kerry’s share four years earlier and about the same level of support he has now.

That advantage is increasingly powerful. An analysis of U.S. Census data by Mark Lopez of the non-partisan Pew Hispanic Center shows that the proportion of Latino eligible voters grew from 2008 to 2010 in seven of the 12 battleground states likely to determine November’s outcome — potentially a critical margin in a close election.

Meanwhile, the Republican share of the Latino vote continues to erode, from 44 percent for George W. Bush in 2004 to 31 percent for John McCain in 2008 to 25 percent in the survey for Romney. “We’ve seen a sharp drop-off … between 2004 and 2008,” acknowledges Ed Gillespie, a senior Romney adviser and former Republican Party national chairman. “It was a factor, obviously, in the margin of President Obama’s win. We do need to do better with Hispanic voters, and I think we can.”

Is there room for Republican optimism? Maybe for future elections, but not a lot of it for this upcoming one. The poll reaffirmed previous studies that show registered Hispanic voters rate unemployment and the economy as higher voting priorities than immigration policies — a sign that Romney is right to focus on how Obama’s economic policies have hurt Hispanics. There also appears to be a generational shift that could give Republicans an opening to attract younger Hispanic voters in the future:

Still, Romney does twice as well among second-generation Latinos compared with immigrants. Among immigrant voters, just 18 percent support Romney. That number rises to 22 percent among the children of at least one immigrant parent and to 35 percent among Hispanics whose families have been in the U.S. for two generations or more.

Democratic pollster Margie Omero says she heard threads of “generational movement and shift” in a focus group of Hispanic women in Las Vegas this month that she helped run with Republican pollster Alex Bratty. The session was part of a series sponsored by Wal-Mart on middle-income women seen as swing voters and dubbed “Wal-Mart Moms.”

But Romney’s problem with Hispanic voters appears to be as much about the overall GOP brand as it is about him specifically. The Republican Party has very high unfavorables (58 percent with Hispanics born outside the U.S. and 61 percent with Hispanics born in the U.S.) and very low favorables (25 percent and 32 percent for the same categories). Of course it doesn’t help that he took a very strong stance against the DREAM Act during the primary. But the problem is about more than just Romney, and it’s not going to be solved in one election.

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Romney Can’t Outbid Obama on Illegals

President Obama is heading to Florida today to address the same group of Hispanic legislators who heard Mitt Romney take a more conciliatory line on illegal immigrants. Romney’s walk back of his previous opposition to the substance of the DREAM Act is a good idea, and he was right to point out that the president’s election year decision to stop the deportation of young illegals is cynical. But it isn’t likely to gain him much traction with Hispanic voters. On this issue, he needs to quit now while he’s behind.

Though many pundits have been hounding Republicans to do more to appeal to Hispanics, at least as far as 2012 is concerned it’s a lost cause. Romney should not be tempted to waste any more time trying to outbid the president on an issue where he has far more to lose than to gain by changing his position. Any further shifts on immigration — an issue on which he staked out a hard right-wing position during the Republican primaries — will only remind voters of his reputation as a flip-flopper. In doing so, Romney also seems to be forgetting that the reason why he did his best to outflank Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich on immigration is that his opposition to amnesty programs happens to be popular.

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President Obama is heading to Florida today to address the same group of Hispanic legislators who heard Mitt Romney take a more conciliatory line on illegal immigrants. Romney’s walk back of his previous opposition to the substance of the DREAM Act is a good idea, and he was right to point out that the president’s election year decision to stop the deportation of young illegals is cynical. But it isn’t likely to gain him much traction with Hispanic voters. On this issue, he needs to quit now while he’s behind.

Though many pundits have been hounding Republicans to do more to appeal to Hispanics, at least as far as 2012 is concerned it’s a lost cause. Romney should not be tempted to waste any more time trying to outbid the president on an issue where he has far more to lose than to gain by changing his position. Any further shifts on immigration — an issue on which he staked out a hard right-wing position during the Republican primaries — will only remind voters of his reputation as a flip-flopper. In doing so, Romney also seems to be forgetting that the reason why he did his best to outflank Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich on immigration is that his opposition to amnesty programs happens to be popular.

President Obama may have spent most of his presidency ignoring the wishes of his Hispanic supporters who wished him to use his executive power to stop enforcement of immigration laws. But now that he has belatedly done as they asked, Romney is in no position to keep up with the president on the issue. That demonstrates the power of incumbency, but even if the president hadn’t changed his position, the idea that there was a massive opening for Romney with Hispanic voters was probably always something of a myth.

It should also be remembered the assumption that the Hispanic vote is monolithic is also mythical. The community is really several groups whose members identify more strongly with their country of origin than the amorphous Hispanic tag. Cuban-Americans do not generally treat the plight of undocumented aliens from Mexico or Central America as a top issue. Nor do Puerto Ricans who are already American citizens.

Also forgotten in the rush to win the loyalty of Hispanics is the fact that in many key states, there are still far more votes to be won by taking a stand against illegal immigration than for it. It is possible that there is a large enough constituency that regards illegal immigrants with sympathy in swing states like Colorado and Nevada to reward the president for his stand. But the no deportation order could represent the end of his hopes in Arizona, where anger about the government’s failure to protect the border is far greater. The same could be true of other states where Romney’s previous tough stance was not a weakness.

There is good reason for both the president and his challenger to endorse the substance of the DREAM Act. But even if he thought it was in his interest to do so, Romney has to understand this is a losing fight and move on. The less attention he pays to the issue the better off he will be.

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