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Republicans Prepared to Repeat their “Original Sin” on Immigration in 2016

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In analysis from the home stretch of the 2012 presidential campaign titled, “His Original Sin,” Ron Brownstein of National Journal noted that Mitt Romney’s general election chances were all but destroyed by his run to the hardline right during the primary season.  Wrote Brownstein, “Of all Romney’s primary-season decisions, the most damaging was his choice to repel the challenges from Perry and Gingrich by attacking them from the right—and using immigration as his cudgel.”

Unfortunately for Republican hopes of taking back the White House, it appears that many of its 2016 contenders – and the national party writ large – are intent to repeat the same mistakes.  In analysis titled, “Republicans Continue to Lurch Right on Immigration, the New York Times made a similar assessment:

“Staring at startling exit polls after a beating by President Obama in 2012, Republicans vowed they were finally ready to do something about immigration reform or risk further alienating Hispanic voters.

“But two-and-a-half years later they have seem to have decided to lurch to the right on the issue.”

Potential 2016 presidential contender Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) seems to agree as well.  During an interview with a radio station in the early primary state of New Hampshire, Senator Graham noted that Republicans needed to address immigration in a bipartisan fashion, including presenting a realistic policy solution for the 11 million undocumented immigrants.  Sen. Graham also captured the political stakes for the GOP continuing to block reform, assessing that, “my party is in a bad spot over this issue, and if we don’t wake up and get our heads in a better spot, we’re going to lose yet again.”

Despite the political stakes and general electorate’s sentiments, most of the 2016 Republican candidates are either flip-flopping on past immigration stances in favor of hardline approaches (see Walker, Scott and Christie, Chris) or distancing themselves from past pro-reform stances and endorsing vacuous soundbites and solutions for inaction, such as “secure the border first” (basically everyone else).  The 2016 Republican contenders are also unanimous in their opposition to President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.  What Republicans are proposing and stating regarding immigration is, as we stated earlier this week, not passing the laugh test.

Among the most notable recent offenders is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is engaged in some transparent political backtracking from his past moderate views on immigration, including calling the 70% of the American public who support a pathway to citizenship “extreme” and labeling Hillary Clinton’s recent immigration remarks as “pandering.”  Instead, Christie proposes that “we need to have an intelligent conversation about this and bring the American people along to where we can find consensus.”

As Steve Benen writes at MSNBC,

“I’d love to hear more about how Christie defines the word ‘pandering.’  For example, is it pandering when a Republican presidential hopeful, struggling to make inroads with his party’s right-wing base, inexplicably flip-flops on immigration – bringing himself in line with the conservative knee-jerk litmus test?

“Because by some measures, it certainly seems as if someone in this story is pandering, and it’s not the former Secretary of State.

“But even more important is Christie’s goal: finding ‘consensus.’ On this, I’m afraid I have bad news for the GOP governor: you’re too late. Policymakers already found consensus.

“It was two years ago when a bipartisan group of lawmakers got together to craft a comprehensive immigration-reform bill. Both sides made concessions and a compromise emerged.

“The bipartisan solution enjoyed the support of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate. President Obama was eager to sign in the bill into law. It was endorsed by immigration advocates and law-enforcement groups. The bill earned support from both labor unions and the Chamber of Commerce. It was celebrated by leading groups from the faith community. By most accounts, it even had the votes to pass the House.

“Polls showed a clear majority of Americans supported the compromise package and wanted to see it signed into law.

“Can we stop pretending that policymakers need to find a ‘consensus’ and start acknowledging that they already had a ‘consensus’ before the House Republican leadership killed the legislation?”

Exactly.  And fresh off blocking the best chance in a generation to enact sweeping immigration reform, that same House Republican caucus is not intent to rest on its anti-immigrant laurels.  Instead, the House GOP just voted against a provision pushed by Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) that would ask the Pentagon to review whether Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients should be able to enlist in the military and serve the nation they call home.  Especially in the absence of more pro-reform voices at the national level, these congressional developments will keep defining the GOP’s brand image to millions of voters – punctuated by remarks such as the following:

Referring to the Gallego provision, Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) said to a local radio host, “I wanted to stand up and shout, I mean, ISIS is willing to serve in our military as well…Part of the reason Rome fell is because they started hiring barbarians, otherwise known as the Germans at the time, to be troops in their own army.  What’s going on is the decline of western civilization at the highest level.”

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “Will they ever learn? When Republicans equate young people who aspire to join the U.S. military with ISIS, you know that the haters are driving the debate within the GOP.  And the fact that most leaders in the GOP respond with crickets is almost as damning.  Pro-immigrant voters are tired of hearing their friends and family members called criminals and terrorists.  We’re disgusted that Republicans are repeating – and outdoing – the Romney lurch to the right on immigration.  And we predict that fastest growing groups of voters – Latinos, Asian-Americans, immigrants and young people – will be disgusted come Election Day.”