The Morning Plum: Will the GOP base ever allow the party to evolve?

Fresh signs emerged over the weekend that the bipartisan group negotiating over immigration reform is gaining real momentum towards a deal. So the spotlight will again shine on whether Congressional Republicans can bring themselves to embrace a path to citizenship and whether that will help repair the GOP’s relations with Latinos.

But the Los Angeles Times reports in a must read that there’s another major obstacle to the GOP’s Latino outreach: The continued drive to repeal Obamacare.

Latinos, who have the lowest rates of health coverage in the country, are among the strongest backers of President Obama‘s healthcare law. In a recent national poll, supporters outnumbered detractors by more than 2 to 1. Latinos also overwhelmingly see guaranteeing healthcare as a core government responsibility, surveys show.

Yet congressional Republicans continue to make repeal of the 2010 Affordable Care Act a top agenda item and have renewed calls for deep cuts in health programs such as Medicaid, which are very popular with Latinos.

Latinos support Obamamacare by more than two to one. Meanwhile, Republican voters overwhelmingly want the whole law scrapped. A New York Times/CBS poll in January found that 33 percent of Americans want to “repeal the entire law.” I asked CBS for a partisan breakdown, and guess what: 62 percent of Republicans want the entire law repealed.

In other words, many Republican voters still hold out hope for Obamacare to receive its grand reckoning. This may explain why leading GOP officials continue to feed the Obamacare repeal fantasy by introducing myriad repeal proposals (which in turn also may explain why the repeal dream retains its grip on GOP voters). But this runs counter to what most Latinos want.

Indeed, more broadly, polling has shown that Latinos disagree with the GOP on core ideological questions about the proper scope and role of government. A Pew poll last year found that 75 percent of Latinos want a “bigger government providing more services.” And a Univision poll found that 55 percent of Latinos think the best way to help the economy grow is for government to “invest resources in federal projects to stimulate the economy,” while only 31 percent favor lowering taxes. Yet the GOP remains ideologically tethered to the Paul Ryan fiscal blueprint, which would not only repeal Obamacare but would also deeply cut spending, dramatically rolling back the safety net and other government programs.

Beyond health care, immigration, and the role of government in health care and the economy, the views of rank and file Republican voters may be impeding the party’s evolution on social issues, too. As Politico reports this morning, leading social conservatives are aggressively challenging the notion — widely advanced by party officials — that the party needs to moderate on issues such as gay marriage to keep pace with cultural and social change. A recent Post poll found that Republicans oppose marriage equality by 59-34. But it also found support for it is very widespread among the groups the GOP needs to improve its standing among: Voters aged 18-29 support it by 81-15; nonwhites by 61-32. Quinnipiac recently found that Latinos support gay marriage by 63-32.

Perhaps some of this explains why pollster Andrew Kohut recently asserted in a devastating piece about the GOP that the “outsize influence of hard-line elements in the party base” are “radicalizing its image and standing in the way of its revitalization.”

* Harry Reid wrestles with new, more liberal Senate: The New York Times has an interesting look at how the Senate Majority Leader has evolved in a progressive direction on gun control and gay marriage, with this key observation:

Mr. Reid’s biggest struggle is to balance the needs of vulnerable Democrats who are up for re-election — especially moderate, long-serving members who are largely institutionalists — with the agendas of newcomers who lean farther to the left. Since 2006, as larger-than-life Democrats like Senators Robert C. Byrd, Edward M. Kennedy and Daniel K. Inouye have died, Democrats have had a big influx of members pressing Mr. Reid toward a more aggressive and often liberal stance.

I’d only add that some of this reflects the fact that the Democratic coalition is changing, forcing a shift in a more liberal direction on cultural issues Dems used to fear.

 * A big step forward for immigration reform: The news over the weekend that labor and business groups have resolved their differences over the guest worker program at the heart of immigration reform is welcome, and stands as another sign that we really may see something pass Congress before the summer. Republicans had blamed “big labor” for the impasse, an apparent effort to lay the groundwork to blame unions if Republicans had to bail on reform because of intense heat from the right over a path to citizenship.

In reality, the most important question at the heart of this debate remains: Can Congressional Republicans cross the path-to-citizenship Rubicon?

* Marco Rubio slow-walks on immigration: With Senators Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham proclaiming that the bipartisan “gang of eight” is very close to a deal on immigration reform, Marco Rubio continues to warn that there is no deal yet, a sign of just how hard he is working to avoid alienating the right as Senators negotiate a way to cross the aforementioned path-to-citizenship Rubicon.

Rubio keeps telling us that any immigration deal must include enforcement “triggers,” but as best as I can determine, he has not specified what those would look like.

* Why Rubio is slow-walking on immigration: The Fix crew explains:

If the perception is that Rubio either a) got rolled or b) rolled over when it comes to a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, which Democrats insist must be in any comprehensive plan, it could mean real trouble for him with the conservative base of the GOP.

Which, in turn, could mean real trouble for his 2016 aspirations…

* Joe Biden pushes GOP Senators on gun control: The Hill quotes a senior administration official claiming that the Vice President has been quietly wooing Republican Senators in hopes of picking off a few to support gun reforms such as expanded background checks. Key targets: John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Johnny Isakson. Getting even one of these would probably be enough to bring along reluctant red state Dems and even moderate GOP Senators.

* Dems keep hitting Republicans over Ryan budget: The DCCC has launched online video advertising that hits 17 vulnerable House Republicans over their support for Paul Ryan’s “Robin Hood in reverse” fiscal vision for America. As I’ve been saying, the GOP strategy for converting the Ryan plan into a positive is to focus solely on the fact that it “balances the budget,” which does poll well, while the Dem response will be to emphasize how the Ryan plan actually purports to accomplish this, which doesn’t poll well at all.

* Dems recruiting moderates to run in tough states: The National Journal has a good overview of the DSCC’s quiet, behind the scenes efforts to ensure that Democrats field moderate, electable candidates in states like Georgia, West Virginia, South Dakota and Kentucky. To be sure, it will be very hard for Dems to win in these states. But here’s the key point: “given that Republicans need to net six Senate seats to take the majority, even one upset victory behind enemy lines would be crucial.”

* And California as an experiment for liberal economics: Conservatives like to point to California as a glaring example of the failure of liberal policies, but Paul Krugman pushes back on this storyline: now that the GOP in that state has lost its power to obstruct, we may now see a test run for genuinely progressive economic policies.

What else?

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