As a number of us have argued, the House GOP’s hardening opposition to Obama’s programs to shield low-priority offenders from deportation is boxing Republicans into a position to the right of Mitt Romney’s 2012 “self deportation” stance. This is the opposite direction many GOP strategists hoped the party would move after its historic 2012 loss among Latinos.
If you want a preview of how this could play during the 2016 Republican presidential primary, read this Peter Hamby account of Marco Rubio’s appearance at a South Carolina fundraiser last night. Rubio scolded a bunch of savvy, in-your-face DREAM demonstrators, who were escorted from the premises as an angry crowd booed.
As CNN’s Hamby put it, Rubio had come to South Carolina “hoping to win over the kind of conservative hardliners who turned on him last year” over his backing for comprehensive immigration reform.
I have some limited video of the event, which was provided to me by United We Dream’s Yash Mori, who shot the footage and posted it on Youtube:
After officials move to throw the DREAM demonstrators out, the footage cuts off. Mori says security asked him to stop recording, and that he resumed recording moments later. Rubio’s quote is hard to hear, but Hamby’s account fills it in. Also note what happened afterwards:
The audience of nearly 1,200 conservatives jeered the protestors as Rubio waited for them to be escorted out of the Anderson Civic Center, scolding them in the process.
“We are a sovereign country that deserves to have immigration laws,” Rubio said. “You’re doing harm to your own cause because you don’t have a right to illegally immigrate to the United States.”
The crowd cheered him on. One elderly audience member shoved a protester as he weaved his way through the tables. Another, 73-year old Army veteran Turk Culberson, angrily stalked them out of the building, clutching his cane as if it were a baseball bat.
Note the distance that Rubio has traveled on this issue. In 2012, the “great Hispanic hope of the Republican Party” worked behind the scenes to move his own legislative version of legalization for undocumented immigrants brought here illegally as children. That was rendered inoperative when Obama announced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, protecting many DREAMers from deportation. But in 2013, Rubio played a key role in passing immigration reform through the Senate with a path to citizenship for the 11 million.
Since then, Rubio has been making amends for his apostasy, apparently with an eye towards running for president next year, and here he is declaring to South Carolina conservatives that DREAMers are “doing harm to your own cause because you don’t have a right to illegally immigrate to the United States.”
Left unsaid is the reason for this: House Republicans would not vote on the Senate bill. They would not vote on any Republican proposals to legalize the 11 million. And they would not vote on even the House GOP equivalent of the DREAM act.
House Republicans did, however, vote on legislation to end DACA and strip protections from the DREAMers. They are opposed to anything Obama might do to expand that program, and will probably vote in the future against that, too. This has left Republicans in the position of advocating against Obama’s enforcement priorities — that is, advocating against deprioritizing the removals of longtime residents with jobs, families or ties to their communities who don’t pose a public safety threat, the DREAMers included, to focus on the removal of serious criminals and recent border crossers. And though Republicans don’t like to admit this directly, they are now left advocating for refocusing enforcement priorities on the removal of those low-priority populations.
For Republicans, this is the inevitable result of building their posture on this issue largely around opposition to Obama — both to his enforcement priorities, and to any executive actions he might take to implement them.
Today Rubio himself announced his opposition to any further executive actions. But it isn’t just Rubio. This is infecting other 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls, too. As Brian Beutler details, Rick Perry is also doing penance for his previous softness on this issue with calls for more militarization of the border. Ted Cruz played a key role in getting House Republicans to vote to end Obama’s deferred deportation programs. Even Rand Paul — who has called for the GOP to grow more inclusive — last week threw in his lot with the Cruz/Steve King wing of the party on the DREAMers. If Obama expands DACA, Republicans will likely face more pressure from GOP base voters to vow to roll that back — escalating the numbers who would lose protection from deportation if Republicans get their way.
After Rubio confronted the DREAMers, Hamby reports this happened:
A plugged-in Republican operative turned to a reporter and observed dryly, “I couldn’t think of a better way to make Rubio look good in South Carolina.”
No doubt; it seemed to rile up the South Carolina Republicans in attendance. But as Republican operatives themselves have conceded, focusing only on impressing these folks won’t make the GOP look any better to Latinos or anyone else outside the party’s “core constituencies.”