Why Immigration Reform Won't Save the GOP


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The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin has kind words for Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s immigration proposal, which would create a path toward legal residence—but not citizenship—for undocumented immigrants:

Why is Rubio having great success so far? I think there are a variety of explanations, only some unique to Rubio. For starters, conservatives are really tired of losing elections; the demographics are compelling and more right-leaning pols and activists are therefore trying to find a solution. Second, Rubio came up with a detailed plan that gives conservatives some comfort in knowing that border issues will come first and there may be a substantial delay between some form of provisional legalization and green-card status or possibly citizenship. This diminishes the concern about encouraging more immigration. Third, this is a good time to tackle the problem since net immigration (thanks to a falling birthrate in Mexico and economic recession) from Mexico is at zero.

For as much as I would like to see a comprehensive and humane fix to our broken immigration system, I think Republicans are vastly overestimating the extent to which this would improve their standing with Latino voters. Latino Decisions held an online seminar on the political calculus of immigration reform. Two things stand out in their analysis. First, if Latinos had voted for Mitt Romney in the proportion they did for George W. Bush, he would be president. At the same time, however, only 31 percent of Latinos say they would be more likely to support Republicans if the GOP took a role in immigration reform—and a lead one at that. For the large majority of Latino voters, there’s not much the GOP can do to earn their support.

Here’s the tough truth: Latinos—like most other minority groups—are more liberal than their white counterparts. The GOP can stem the bleeding with Latinos, and find ways to win Republican-leaning members of the group, but overall, there's no escaping the fact that there's only a small pool of conservative Latinos. What’s more, they’ll only make the difference in a small handful of states. At most, gaining a few percentage points among Latino voters nationwide will keep a few states competitive—Colorado and Florida, in particular. What it won't do is transform the GOP’s electoral position.

Between this and the floated change to how state's allocate their electoral votes, I can’t help but think that Republicans want an easy fix to their electoral woes: Immigration reform, new rules or new rhetoric. But insofar that the GOP has a problem, it’s with their ideas. The party just isn’t responsive to the needs and concerns of working and middle-class Americans. While there is an emerging class of GOP “reformers”—Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio, and Paul Ryan—there’s little sign they understand this.

To wit, Jindal has embarked on a plan to lower taxes on the rich and raise them on the poor, while Rubio and Ryan remain committed to a low tax, low service of the federal government. And the problem is even worse on foreign policy, where belligerence remains the language of the Republican Party, and few GOP leaders show any sign of remorse for the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The GOP will have to make real, hard changes before the public trusts it to lead again. So far, there’s no indication that Republicans are ready to take that journey.