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Forget the Shutdown: Immigration is the Real GOP Rift

Forget the Shutdown: Immigration is the Real GOP Rift

The conventional wisdom is that divisions within the Republican Party are about tactics, not goals. That is true of the shutdown over Obamacare. It is less true of divisions over immigration, which are about tactics but also policy. Tactically, pro-reform Republicans fear that the GOP will atrophy among minorities without it, while opponents worry about alienating core voters and adding millions of Democrats to the rolls.

The policy divide is even deeper. Big business wants the cheap labor that immigration reform could provide, as well as access to more high-skilled foreigners. Workers, however, fear new competition for jobs and for access to declining public services. There are a few odd coalitions: national security hawks, for example, largely support reform. But where economic interests are at stake, there may be little to bridge the divides.

The government shutdown partly masked these growing rifts–and partly gave them expression. An article in Friday’s Daily Beast reports that Ryan Ellis, who works for Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, is in full attack mode against Ted Cruz over his “defund Obamacare” tactics. But Norquist has also been a key supporter of immigration reform, and Cruz is one of the most important GOP opponents of that effort.

The idea that Republicans would have focused on Obamacare had Ted Cruz not urged a confrontation is largely bogus. Most members of the GOP establishment–and the Tea Party–were focused on immigration. The untold story of the “defund Obamacare” fight is that there were some opponents of immigration reform who worried privately that Cruz’s focus on Obamacare was diverting energies needed to resist amnesty.

But in the aftermath of the shutdown, opponents of immigration reform feel they have the upper hand, quite by accident. The reason: President Barack Obama’s refusal to negotiate, and the eventual capitulation of the House GOP to the Senate Democrats, has strengthened arguments against passing any legislation through the House that could result in going to a conference committee with the Senate, even “piecemeal” bills.

The failure of the Obamacare rollout has also strengthened opponents of immigration reform. The so-called “comprehensive” bill that passed the Senate is Obamacare II, in legislative terms–a massive tangle of new regulations (and special-interest giveaways) that even career bureaucrats would have trouble decoding. That is partly why anger at Cruz continues to build in the Beltway, even as the shutdown fades from memory.

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