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Greg Sargent: For GOP, Debating Immigration Reform in 2015 Could be "Nightmare Scenario"

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Today in immigration commentary, there are a couple of key pieces re: whether House Republicans should take up reform in 2014, an election year.  Below is an excerpt from a new Greg Sargent piece that wonders what happens if 2015 turns out to be a bad year for Republicans and immigration reform.  The primary campaign will have started, which tends to pull the GOP to the right. That’s what gave us Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation” strategy in 2012. If that pull leaves no space for Republicans in Congress to take up immigration reform with an attainable path to citizenship, then the GOP will have shot itself in the foot again — just in time to spectacularly lose another general election.  For Sargent’s more detailed explanation, view an excerpt below or at the Washington Post:

Here’s an alternate reading: If the party tackles reform in 2015, it could get tied up in GOP presidential primary politics, pulling the GOP field to the right and leaving the eventual nominee saddled with extreme party rhetoric and positions on the issue, further alienating Latinos in the general election — exactly as happened in 2014. So while it might be difficult for Republicans to get reform done this year, braving it might be better than waiting.

I ran this scenario by several GOP strategists. They agreed it’s a real problem.

“If Republicans wait until 2015 to tackle this issue, that puts a very emotional and controversial issue right in the middle of the Republican presidential selection process,” veteran GOP pollster Whit Ayres, a supporter of reform, tells me. “The opportunity for demagoguery will be exceedingly prevalent if we wait that long.”

“It could drag the entire field to the right on immigration, which is the last thing we need if we want to be competitive in the America of the 21st century as well as in the 2016 presidential election,” Ayres continued. “It’s a very real threat.”

Consider the role of Ted Cruz, who is expected to run for president. He’s alreadyattacking the new GOP immigration principles as “amnesty.” If Republicans try to pass reform in 2015, he’ll have an opening to demagogue the heck out of the issue to appeal to a chunk of right wing GOP primary voters. He’ll do all he can to turn the GOP primary process into an anti-amnesty sludge-fest.

Is that what Republicans want? Opponents of reform sure want that to happen. Democrats probably wouldn’t mind it all that much, either.

If one candidate does stake out a position as the anti-amnesty standard-bearer, it could complicate things for GOP candidates (Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Chris Christie have all embraced reform to varying degrees) who actually want to support, and campaign on, some sort of immigration solution that deals with the 11 million.

“You could see a scenario where some of the candidates want to do something solutions-oriented on immigration, but then one candidate somehow wins Iowa on a “no amnesty’ pledge,” Patrick Hynes, a New Hampshire-based political strategist who was an adviser on both the McCain and Romney campaigns, tells me. “Then the other canddiates would have to morphe their positions to the right, thereby buttonholing themselves when the inevitable debate comes up again in the next primary states.”

“As we saw in 2012, just by virtue of having this debate, we alienate the fastest growing portion of the electorate,” Hynes continued. “That could result in us starting the next general election on our heels.”

The alternative?  Eating your vegetables now.  Because they’re good for you.  As a senior Democratic aide told the Daily Beast today:

Two years is a long time in politics. They take the vote this summer and they don’t have to explain it for another two years. By then, the presidential ticket will have been put into action, the bill is a law, and the sky hasn’t fallen.