On Immigration Reform, It’s Now or Never for the GOP
In a must-read article entitled “Republican Strategists Split: Focus on 2014 or 2016?” Laura Meckler and Beth Reinhard of the Wall Street Journal explore an existential question for the Republican Party: if the Party shelves immigration reform in 2014 for the sake of a strong mid-term, what will be the consequences given the party’s need to attract more Latino, Asian-American, immigrant and young voters to remain viable as a national party in 2016 and beyond?
Here are some key excerpts:
Republicans are divided over how to achieve two conflicting goals: Maximizing wins in 2014 congressional races and better positioning the party for the 2016 presidential contest, when the electorate will look much different.
Some Republicans argue that with President Barack Obama‘s poll numbers sinking and his health-care law unpopular, the party is on course for big House and Senate gains this fall. The worst thing the party could do, they say, is to take up contentious matters such as an immigration overhaul or some social issues, which would divide the party and could prompt GOP voters to stay home.
But others say the party has become too risk-averse. It needs to take steps now, they say, to reverse the party’s losing record in the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections and start appealing to the more diverse electorate that will turn out for the 2016 election…Bill McInturff, a longtime GOP pollster who has advised congressional and presidential campaigns, said his party’s problem is that most GOP congressional districts have been drawn to be overwhelmingly white, insulating congressional Republicans from the larger demographic shifts afoot in the nation. ‘They don’t know what’s coming’ demographically, he said. ‘It may well take another presidential loss before they figure out.’
…Others worry that a big win this year could persuade Republicans that they can stave off issues such as immigration even longer. Victories in ‘2014 could be a false narcotic for Republicans,’ said Ari Fleischer, a former press secretary for President George W. Bush, who helped write an autopsy of the 2012 election for the Republican National Committee. But GOP strategist Kevin Madden, who served as a senior adviser to Mitt Romney‘s presidential campaign, as well as to House Republicans, thinks it is too early to target the 2016 electorate…
A GOP House leadership aide added that the imperatives for a presidential election will be taken care of ‘in due course.’ In any case, he said, views in 2016 will be chiefly shaped by the Republican nominee, not by Congress…’It’s hard to position yourself for a presidential election when you first need to take back the Senate,’ said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean, a former top congressional aide who favors taking up immigration this year. ‘After that happens, you’re going to see a giant pivot by everyone on winning back the White House. But right now, it’s on the most immediate needs.
In a related Wall Street Journal post by Meckler, she quotes former House leadership aide and current GOP strategist John Feehery as saying, “It’s hard to get people to look too far into the future. We’re all kind of frogs living in an ever-increasing boiling pot of water. But right now, it’s only kind of hot.”
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
With respect to doing right on immigration reform and getting right with the fastest growing groups of new voters in American, here’s the bottom line for the GOP: it’s now or never. You either shape policy and share credit this year, or you will look back on your decision not to as a squandered opportunity that hastened the Republican Party’s demise.
Here’s what’s likely to happen if House Republicans get to no on immigration reform in the coming weeks: President Obama will step in and protect low-priority undocumented immigrants with relief from deportation and work permits; Republicans will go nuts and do everything they can to overturn the President’s executive action; the GOP’s anti-Latino, anti-Asian and anti-immigrant brand will be cemented for a generation; GOP talk of enacting immigration reform in 2015-16 will be just that; 2016 and its expanded electorate will turn the election into a tsunami for Democrats up and down the ballot; the immigration reform movement will work with – and if need be, wait for – a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress to enact immigration reform without having to make concessions or share credit with Republicans. That’s what now or never looks like. The water will boil and you’ll be dead.