In the weeks ahead, the Republican Party is going to have itself a fine debate over immigration, with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio more or less betting his presidential ambitions on winning the argument. If he can’t convince enough Republicans to join him, his de facto support for amnesty will become a cannon ball chained to his leg in the race for the 2016 GOP nomination.
Personally, I hope Rubio is successful, because his success would mean that we actually accomplish something and put this problem behind us. But I have serious doubts.
His fellow Republican senator, David Vitter of Louisiana, this week called Rubio’s stance on immigration “nuts” and “amazingly naive,” all the while expressing his enormous admiration for his Florida colleague. House Republicans, a good indicator of the sentiment of the GOP base, don’t seem ready at all to embrace the Rubio solution. The editors at National Review dismissed it as well this week in a piece headlined “A Pointless Amnesty”:
“Call it ‘regularization,’ call it a ‘path to citizenship,’ it amounts to precisely the same thing: a decision to set aside the law and to ignore its violation.”
The folks at National Review also argue that “the idea that an amnesty is going to put Latinos squarely in the GOP tent is a fantasy.” Framed in those terms, they’re right. There are no conceivable circumstances in which the Latino vote is going to end up “squarely in the GOP tent.” However, a cessation of active hostility might, just might, allow the party to compete for some of those votes in the future.
The realization that the Latino vote might not be a natural GOP constituency after all has become a popular theme on the right, but it reflects a typically narrow way of thinking about the issue. Its implications for the overall GOP brand are much broader.
In a new CBS poll released this week, 71 percent of Americans say they support allowing illegal immigrants to remain here, with 51 percent saying they would support a path to citizenship. Only 24 percent of Americans take the GOP position that those immigrants must somehow be required to return home.
In other words, the GOP’s political problem on this issue is not by any means limited to Hispanic Americans. The GOP position toward the Latino minority mirrors its historic animosity to gay rights, affirmative action, minority voting protections, the Equal Rights Amendment for women and similar issues.
Each of those groups listens to GOP rhetoric on the Latino issue and it hears a powerful reminder of GOP indifference to its own struggles. If the GOP ends up scuttling comprehensive immigration reform, those non-Latino voters will view it as confirmation that the Grand Old Party isn’t changing, and that it has every intention of being more old than grand.
And unfortunately, they will be right to think that way.
– Jay Bookman