July 25, 2013
Immigrants rally Washington in July. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)
Immigrants rally Washington in July. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

Greg Sargent gets a key quote from U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) that indicates how Democrats are trying to frame immigration: “Republicans are going to have to decide whether they belong to the Steve King faction of the Republican Party or to the get-it-done faction of the Republican Party.”

The thing is, framed like that, it’s no-win for many Republicans. Opposing immigration reform threatens to hurt them badly in the long run, but supporting it threatens to cost them in primary elections in the short run. Sure, the threat of losing renomination may be overstated, but much of politics runs on the paranoia of elected officials — good luck trying to talk them out of it.

On the other hand, Republicans know that the issue won’t just go away by itself. Immigration is a real problem, not an imagined one — and there are several well-organized groups with a strong interest in keeping it front-burner until something is done. And Steve King reminded Republicans this week that every time immigration is on the agenda, the odds are good that they’re going to wind up distancing themselves from some crackpot.

The solution is still out there, just as it’s always been: Let a comprehensive bill pass over their “no” votes and blame Speaker John Boehner for it — at least in public. For most House Republicans, that would seem to be the best path in terms of balancing their personal electoral interests and the party’s overall electoral interests.

The key to this is that it probably doesn’t matter very much for future Republican electoral prospects if they actually vote for comprehensive immigration reform. What matters is making the issue go away as quickly as possible. As long as immigration is a front-burner issue, it’s going to be important to many — maybe most — Latino voters, and that means they’re going to be judging the GOP on the Steve Kings of the party. And, as we’re reminded this week, there’s always going to be a Steve King.

The best thing I’ve seen on the danger for Republicans in this is from John Sides:

One prominent theory of party identification is that people identify with the party that they associate with social groups they like or belong to. So it’s not so much about policy, or what the parties “stand for.” It’s who the parties “stand with.”  The challenge for the GOP is that even if it supports other policies that many Latinos support, its hostility to immigration reform may be the driving force behind a broader impression: that the Democrats are “the party of Latinos.” And once those impressions are formed, they are very difficult to change. As I’ve noted, the perception that the GOP is the “party of the rich” really has not changed for 60 years.

Get immigration out of the way and that all stops happening, or at least has the potential to stop happening.

Let it continue, and those perceptions continue, and we really could get that lock-in that will seal the vote for a generation or more.

It doesn’t have to happen. But unless House Republicans act — or just get out of the way and let Democrats act — the odds of it happening are very high.

And I think that most House Republicans know it.