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GOP Control of the House Comes at a High Cost to Party’s Future

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new book from acclaimed political scientist Tom Schaller – entitled “The Stronghold: How Republicans Captured Congress but Surrendered the White House” – offers mountains of evidence for a point we’ve long made – that House Republicans’ dominant hardline views on immigration directly threaten the Republican Party’s ability to win back the presidency. Schaller argues that most House Republicans care more about primary challengers than they do about the national party’s competitiveness and seem willing to consolidate their base and control of the House of Representatives at the expense of retaking the White House. In the immigration context, this helps explain why House Republicans blocked immigration reform last Congress and continue to take pot-shots at President Obama’s executive actions despite the fact that these positions are at odds with the hearts and minds of Latino voters and the views of the majority of Americans .

Hillary Clinton threw down the immigration gauntlet last week, knowing full well that leaning in to this issue will improve her standing among Latino, Asian-American and immigrant voters while highlighting the widening gap between GOP doctrine and the rest of America.  As we wrote yesterday, Clinton realized that immigration is, indeed, the GOPs Kryptonite.

As Andrew Prokop summarizes in Vox about Schaller’s book:

“The vast majority of Republican members of Congress, Schaller argues, don’t have to appeal to a presidential-year electorate that has more young and racially diverse voters.  Instead, for their own benefit, they’d prefer to ‘double down on the strategy of maximizing the power Republicans derive from their dwindling older, white, male voter base,’ he writes.

“Therefore, on issues like immigration, Republicans have been tailoring their policies and political strategies to win their base — not to get the Republican nominee elected president.

“… So winning these voters is crucial for House members looking to build their own careers and for building a durable House majority.  But responding to these voters is pulling Republicans further and further to the right, in a way that’s hurting their national hopes.”

Schaller’s analysis complements a point GOP pollster Whit Ayres has also been making – that the next Republican presidential nominee will need to make significant gains outside the core GOP base voting audience in order to retake the White House in 2016.  Ayres notes that the eventual Republican nominee will need to win greater than 40% of the Latino vote in order to win the presidency in 2016. But, as he outlines in a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “A Daunting Demographic Challenge for the GOP in 2016,” the party is facing an uphill climb to achieve that figure (in no small part because of the immigration debate).

The leading 2016 Republicans not only grasp these dynamics, but some embody them.  Witness Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) in recent days. While continuing to rhetorically promote immigration reform and the need to make inroads to new demographic groups of voters, Sen. Rubio just signed onto amicus brief against immigration executive actions, along with a “who’s who” of anti-immigrant Members of Congress (including Reps. Steve King (R-IA), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Lamar Smith (R-TX), and others).  As we’ve been noting, Republican presidential candidates must appeal to both Republican primary voters, who lean in the opposite direction of the American mainstream on immigration, as well as Latino, Asian-American and other general electorate voters, whose views on immigration align much closer to Hillary Clinton’s remarks than the GOP base’s views.  Or check out what is happening this week in the House of Representatives, where the diehard anti-immigrant wing of the GOP is seeking to strike from the National Defense Authorization Act a provision pushed by Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) that would ask the Pentagon to review whether DACA recipients should be able to enlist in the military and serve the nation they call home.

If Schaller is right – and the Republicans maintain a hold on the House but sacrifice national modernization and taking back the White House in the process – here’s what it means for the future of immigration and undocumented immigrants.

The next Democratic president, whether Hillary Clinton or someone else, would face similar dynamics to those encountered by the Obama Administration since 2011: strong opposition from a Republican House where the anti-immigrant tail wags the dog, a potential path forward in the Senate and an electorally strong and vibrant immigration reform movement.  The next president and the immigration movement and our allies may decide to seek a new opportunity to pass long-overdue immigration reform legislation in 2017 on a bipartisan basis.  However, until the House flips or Republicans have a change of heart, a legislative solution might remain elusive.  That is why expanding executive action has emerged as the most immediate way to change lives for the better for immigrants long settled in the United States (NOTE: We expect the courts ultimately to uphold the legality of immigration executive action).  And that is precisely why Hillary Clinton’s full-throated embrace of executive action and promise to go further as needed was greeted so enthusiastically by our movement.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “Targeting appeals to the shrinking segments of the electorate is an eventual recipe for political irrelevance, as many smart Republicans recognize.  But attempts to actually reform the GOP from within on immigration continue to run headlong into the wall of anti-immigrant opposition in the House and the outlier views on immigration embraced by core GOP primary voters. But this doesn’t leave us at a stalemate.  The growing power of the immigration reform movement and the rising support from American voters for action will ensure that progress on immigration does happen. While a legislative outcome is the shared goal, Republican obstructionism will continue to be overcome by movement strength in the form of additional executive actions and gains at the state and local level.  As the 2016 cycle kicks into higher gear, these fundamentals show no signs of changing.”