By Blocking Immigration Reform, House Republicans Secure GOP Death Spiral
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Over the past several years, as the Republican party has slid deeper into ideological dogmatism, naked legislative obstructionism, mindless partisanship and increasingly heartless social policy, it has largely spoken with one voice. Whether you're the Senate majority leader, the governor of Texas or a state senator in Florida, the message and the madness have been remarkably similar.
But immigration reform has proven to an exception to this general rule.
Throughout the 2012 presidential campaign, Republican candidates practically tried to outdo themselves in hurling invective at the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants – and the very idea of treating them with dignity. But after the 2012 election, a prominent party elite began singing a very different tune. Unable to accept the reality that the electorate rejected their conservative vision for America in re-electing Barack Obama, many Republicans have convinced themselves that their problem in 2012 was one of demographics – namely, the overwhelming loss of the Hispanic vote.
They came up with an easy fix: immigration reform.
By passing reform and showing that Republicans don't really hate undocumented immigrants and that they were just joking about that whole "self-deporting" thing, the GOP could win back some support from Hispanic voters. Or so the story went.
It was an argument that quickly took hold among Republican elites, business supporters of the GOP who rely on cheap immigrant labor and presidential contenders like Marco Rubio. For members of Congresswith large Hispanic populations, the benefits of passing reform were obvious. As a result, last month, in a rare moment of bipartisan compromise, 13 Senate Republicans even voted in support of a measure that included a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Immigration reform, it seemed, stood a fighting chance of becoming law.
But then it ran headfirst into the place where good ideas, common sense and political outreach go to die – and parochialism reigns supreme: the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Since passing the Senate with a filibuster-proof majority, immigration reform has gone from being a patient with an uncertain prognosis to one that's about to get transferred to hospice care. And the reason is rather simple – House Republicans are much more interested in keeping their base of conservative white voters happy than they are in improving their standing among Hispanic voters.
For decades, the Republican party has been a party dominated by white voters. Although there were occasional moments of making inroads into the Hispanic and even black community, since 1968 Republicans have relied on an overwhelming share of the white vote as their political base. It was an often effective political strategy – in large measure, because the white share of the electorate was so large – and also because Republicans had long come to understand how they could effectively mine economic apprehension and resentment toward minorities, young people and, indeed, the whole process of cultural change to win national elections.
But with the country getting browner, and with college-educated whites and women embracing a more tolerant and secular Democratic party, the electoral options for Republicans have narrowed dramatically. Indeed, the 2012 election was, in key regards, a last gasp for Republicans as Mitt Romney took a page from the old Wallace/Nixon/Reagan/Bush playbook of trafficking in white anxiety – and failed miserably.
But that failure is one that predominately afflicts the presidential wing of the party and the dwindling number of Republicans in blue and purple states. For the congressional wing of the party, white voters are still their bread and butter. After all, most of them did just fine in the 2012 election.