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GOP Contenders Left Speechless by Clinton Immigration Remarks, But Silence Doesn’t Erase Their Problems

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Her Bold Move This Week Puts the Ball in GOP Court, But Most Top Contenders Don’t Seem to Feel Like Playing

In the aftermath of Hillary Clinton’s immigration remarks, which we view as both far-reaching and significant on policy and politically savvy, the silence from several of the leading 2016 Republican presidential contenders has been deafening.

As David Nakamura and Robert Costa write in the Washington Post, “The relatively subdued GOP reaction illustrated a dilemma for a Republican Party still wrestling with the hot-button issue of immigration three years after Obama routed Mitt Romney behind overwhelming support from Latinos and Asian Americans.  Although virtually all of the Republican hopefuls have denounced Obama’s executive actions, which are wildly unpopular with the GOP’s conservative base, they recognize that staking out a hardline immigration position probably would harm their status with two of the fastest-growing subsets of the electorate.” (also check out Greg Sargent at the Post’s “Plum Line” and Carrie Dann and Andrew Rafferty at NBC News for good analysis on the topic).

According to Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice: “The silence from most GOP contenders on Secretary Clinton’s immigration proposals is deafening.  She staked out big, bold positions on a path to citizenship as well as expanding administrative action and reforming enforcement, drawing a crystal clear contrast between herself and literally everyone in the Republican field.  She put the ball in their court, but they’re trying not to play—perhaps they realize they can’t compete on this turf.”

The GOP field is stuck between an anti-immigrant rock and a demographic hard place, but their “relatively subdued GOP reaction” masks several very loud problems for the Republican Party and its 2016 prospects:

  • Every GOP contender already has expressed opposition to executive action – the most noteworthy aspect of Clinton’s speech: Despite lots of silence in reacting to Hillary Clinton’s specific remarks, every single Republican presidential contenderis already on the record as opposed to immigration executive action.  Ultimately we need to pass through Congress immigration reform with a path to citizenship in order to find a permanent solution to our broken immigration system and protect the 11 million undocumented immigrants settled in America. Advocates are working to create a new opportunity to move such legislation in 2017.  However, until the House flips or Republicans have a change of heart, a legislative fix may remain a heavy lift.  That is why executive action has emerged as the most immediate way to change lives for the better (NOTE: We expect the courts ultimately to uphold the legality of immigration executive action).
  • Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are already facing an uphill climb with Latino voters – and Clinton’s latest move only makes that hill even steeper to climb: Bush and Rubio are the two GOP contenders most often mentioned as recognizing the demographic challenges facing the Party and potentially being capable of making inroads with Latino voters.  Yet they already face an uphill climb with Latino voters – polling from NBC News/Wall Street Journalfrom before Tuesday’s event in Las Vegas found that Hillary Clinton leads Jeb Bush by a 66%-28% margin and leads Marco Rubio by a 63%-32% margin among Latino voters.  The eventual Republican nominee will need to win greater than 40% of the Latino vote in order to win the White House in 2016.  By laying out an unequivocally assertive set of pro-immigrant policies in Las Vegas, Clinton drew an even sharper contrast with the Republican contenders.
  • Scott Walker and Ted Cruz intend to make immigration an issue and pull the debate to the right in the primary season: The two major contenders who did weigh in reacting to Clinton’s remarks were Scott Walker (whose most recent hardline immigration vision embraces a mix of the radical and incoherent) and Ted Cruz (who saidlast week that he would do away with DACA and DAPA on “Day One” of a potential Cruz presidency).  They are intent to pull the immigration debate to the right, while ensuring that immigration remains a topic of focus in the primary and caucus debates.  Bottom line, the whole field will have to start answering some specifics on immigration, whether or not they want to (see this recent America’s Voice report exploring how the leading Republican contenders are being purposefully vague on essential immigration policy questions – and specific topics the field needs to need to address).