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Though Pro-Reform Republicans Fare Well in Primaries and Polls, Republican Leaders Side With Anti-Reform Sliver of the Party

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Lindsey Graham Stands Strong, Eric Cantor Runs Scared

Washington, DC – Despite real world evidence at the ballot box that embracing a practical approach to immigration reform is no problem, too many in the Republican Party continue to act as if the loud-but-not-large nativist wing of the party is in command.  For example, two Southern senators who strongly supported the bipartisan Senate immigration reform bill – Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee – are facing Tea Party primary challengers.  Neither has backed off their support for immigration reform and neither is in danger.

In a Wall Street Journal assessment titled, “Immigration’s Primary Effect Muted,” Laura Meckler writes:

“Opposition to an immigration-law overhaul remains high within the Republican Party, but primary season is showing that support isn’t necessarily a career-ending move, nor is opposition a clear path to the nomination.  That could factor into the decision by House GOP leaders on whether to move broad immigration legislation this year.

“’So far, being against immigration reform is not the ticket to victory that a lot of the proponents of that point of view seemed to think that it was,’ said GOP pollster Whit Ayres, who advises Mr. Graham’s campaign and supports an immigration overhaul.  He described opponents of the Senate legislation as ‘an intense’ minority.”

The results in the primaries cited by Meckler correspond to reams of polling and public opinion that show that Republican voters are more practical and pragmatic on immigration than their leaders suppose.  For example, Politico recently released a new poll that found that 71% of voters overall and 64% of Republicans back immigration reform, while a May poll of self-identified Tea Party supporters found broad support for the tenets of a broad reform package and overwhelming preference for action on immigration reform compared to the status quo, choosing a “deal between the President and Congress” over “the current immigration system the way it is” by a whopping 84-7% margin.

But in Virginia, Majority Leader Eric Cantor is running scared.  Faced with a contentious primary that will be held tomorrow, Cantor has boasted about his role as the leading obstacle to immigration reform.  To underscore the point, he issued a memo last week with impending House legislative priorities for June, with immigration is conspicuously absent from the agenda.  Given that the window for legislative action is rapidly closing, we may yet see a campaign flyer with Cantor lining up a hammer and a nail for a coffin called immigration reform legislation.

Meanwhile, over in the Lone Star State, the Texas Republican Party dispensed with smart policy and time-to-change-your-tone tactics.  The party repudiated a previous platform plank that called for a more balanced approach to immigration reform, and embraced a hardline stance.  As the Associated Press writes:

“Just two years after embracing a softer stance on immigration in hopes of wooing the state’s surging Hispanic population, the Texas Republican Party has done a dramatic about-face — gutting its own past initiative and vowing that not giving an inch on the issue will ensure future success…[T]he most conservative wing of the party dismantled language in the 2012 state party platform known as the ‘Texas Solution.’   It had sanctioned a guest worker program for people in the U.S. illegally, bolstering a workforce for the state’s booming economy while providing an olive branch of sorts to Hispanics who tend to support Democrats.”

The AP piece includes a quote from anti-immigrant hardliner and current Texas Republican lieutenant governor candidate Dan Patrick: “This idea that somehow we’re not going to be able to attract Hispanic voters to our party over immigration is wrong…Because, much of the time, all Hispanics want the same thing that you want, they want a secure border.”

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “Does the national Republican Party really want to test Dan Patrick’s proposition in 2016 and beyond?  Judging by the continued actions of Eric Cantor, the answer appears to be ‘yes.’  Or, the GOP could stand up to the ‘Hell No’ wing of the party and position itself as a modernizing party intent on competing for Latino, Asian-American and immigrant voters.  Lindsey Graham and Lamar Alexander have the courage to do just that.  Eric Cantor and Dan Patrick, not so much.”

 346 Days Since Senate Passed its Immigration Bill; 18 Days Left Until Window of Opportunity Closes

 Follow Frank Sharry and America’s Voice on twitter @FrankSharry and @AmericasVoice. 

America’s Voice – Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform