2014 is the GOP's to lose – and that might just be what they want

Somehow immigration reform – i.e. amnesty for illegal aliens – keeps coming back from the grave, every time it’s pronounced dead.  I believe we’re up to at least five distinct “amnesty is dead” proclamations from Capitol Hill insiders and pundits with good GOP connections… but now it’s back again, as the Republican leadership announces an odd new set of “principles” that amount to amnesty for many and work permits for the rest, which will of course become full amnesty in short order.

None of this is a priority for the American people, who would like Washington to do something about ObamaCare and the dead-parrot jobless non-recovery we’ve been groaning through for five years now, and might wonder if handing out 10 million new “just shy of citizenship” legal statuses is the right move for an economy that can’t generate enough jobs to employ existing citizens.  It’s pure poison to the GOP base, which sees this issue far more clearly than the often-delusional Republican leadership, and knows full well that the “legal status but not citizenship” proposal will become “citizenship” with blinding speed, expecting border security commitments to be honored by King Barack I is a joke, and the Republicans will be rewarded for their generous gift of second-class citizenship by accusations that they’ve created the American version of apartheid.

There’s not much the Republican establishment could do that would sour their chances of a wave election in 2014 faster than cutting an immigration reform deal that will make a large segment of their base electorate stay home, or perhaps even jump-start that third-party exodus.  Some wonder if the new “immigration reform principles” are a defensive measure against an anticipated Democrat political attack later this year; others think the GOP wants to get some Beltway credit for talking about this stuff, but plans to create no viable legislation out of it, amounting to a rhetorical feint that fades from memory by the time November rolls around.

And then you’ve got Sean Trende at Real Clear Politics, who advances a theory that the GOP leadership is intentionally trying to lose the 2014 election by depressing their base with this new immigration push.  More precisely, Trende wonders if they’re looking to blunt their big win and stave off a blowout that would put them in an uncomfortable position for the next two years:

The idea is twofold. First, a landslide would present as much of a problem as it does an opportunity for those who might want to revisit the issue in 2015, especially if the GOP establishment (or its donors) believes this is a must-do before the 2016 elections.  The base would be even more agitated after a big victory, and appalled at any compromise on this issue if the GOP picks it up in 2015.  In addition, absent a majority, Democrats wouldn’t have the same incentive to support a bill that contained further compromises, especially since they already view the bill as a compromise in the first place. They’d be better off watching Republicans flail and fail to pass a bill as their own base abandons them; this is roughly what happened in the mid-2000s.

This makes sense of the timing issue.  Perhaps the GOP really did plan on letting the issue die last summer, when taking the Senate looked like a 50-50 shot, and breaking even in the House seemed like the order of the day. But then the Obamacare rollout hit, and suddenly Republicans looked like they might enjoy a 2010 redux.

Trende goes on to observe that a lot of the new Republicans who would roll into office during a wave election would be pesky Tea Party types, and the Republican establishment hates those guys.  The Establishment would rather be a respectable rump party cutting deals with a permanent Democrat majority than risk losing its hold on GOP money and influence to the likes of Ted Cruz and his Rogue Squadron.  

This is only one of the theories Trende discusses; he also goes over the other possibilities mentioned above in great detail, adding the uncomfortably obvious observation that the Chamber of Commerce really, really, really wants that cheap imported labor.  He thinks that’s less of a factor than populist conservatives make it out to be, but nobody can deny there’s a fairly strong open-borders lobby within the Republican Party.  

It’s probably a combination of all those factors.  The theory Trende explores that I find least convincing is the notion that Republicans are setting a trap for Democrats by offering legal status without citizenship, which is actually a rather popular notion within the Undocumented-American community; there have been a number of polls suggesting that many of them want to live and work here, but they don’t really want to be Americans.  The Democrats won’t settle for what Republicans are proposing – they want those amnestied voters, who they believe will accelerate the process of making it demographically impossible for Republicans to ever win the White House or control Congress again – but if they try to kill a bill that actually sounds pretty good to the people it’s intended to help, a wedge would theoretically be driven into the Democrat coalition.  

I really don’t buy that idea, because (1) the GOP leadership doesn’t think that way, (2) it’s almost impossible to push a serious wedge issue without media support, and (3) demagoguery of the New Apartheid over the next couple of years would panic the Republicans out of holding firm, and Democrats know it.  My guess is that if these Republican immigration reform principles gestate into a bill, the Democrats will take a stab at complaining about the indignity of offering second-class status to bring illegals “out of the shadows” instead of giving them full citizenship, but they won’t fight it hard enough to spark off an intra-party war.  They’ll take the deal and immediately go to work on securing access to government programs and voting rights for the newly legalized – a crusade that might take a few years, but will give them some excellent opportunities to pummel any Republican who tries to insist that the legalized workers should never become full citizens.


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