Republicans (Probably) Don't Have to Reform on Immigration

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Here’s why I don’t expect Republicans to sign on to comprehensive immigration reform, even as they understand a need to better appeal to Latino voters and other immigrant groups:

A poll released Wednesday by Resurgent Republic, a GOP research group, of Hispanic voters in Florida, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada—all important swing states in presidential elections—found overwhelming support for a range of policies that are expected to be part of immigration legislation.

Policy aside, some Republicans worry that offering citizenship would create millions of new Democratic voters, said John Feehery, a Republican consultant, who doesn’t subscribe to that view. [Emphasis added]

The simple truth about Latino voter is that—by and large—they lean Democratic on most issues. They support more government spending on education, infrastructure, and social welfare, and they support a larger federal role in the economy. Even if Republicans had taken a strategy of accommodation—and worked with Latinos to craft more humane immigration laws—we’d be looking at a world where, at best, the GOP was winning a plurality of Latino voters.

Comprehensive immigration reform is the right thing to do, but in terms of politics, Republicans are justifiably wary—an immigration bill, signed by a Democratic president, will guarantee stronger Latino support for Democrats on top of the fact that they’re a left-leaning demographic.

It’s also true that pundits have probably overstated the importance of Latino voters to GOP chances in national elections. In order to close his popular vote gap through Latinos alone, given Obama’s current lead, Mitt Romney would have had to win an additional 4.5 million votes—on top of his current share—for a total of 7.9 million votes, or 63 percent of the Latino vote.

I can’t imagine a world where Romney—or any Republican, frankly—wins nearly two thirds of Hispanic voters. Which is to say that, for Romney to have won, he would have had to do better among all voters, not just Latinos.

Republicans have at least one more presidential cycle before they need to sign on to anything that looks like comprehensive immigration reform. Indeed, the most they have to do is not underperform their historical totals. That, combined with higher white turnout and stronger performance among African Americans (i.e. not single digits), should be enough to eke out a popular vote victory.

For now, and given the high likelihood of GOP gains in the 2014 midterm elections, there just isn’t much urgency for a Republican shift on immigration reform.