There’s a lot of chatter today about Senator Ted Cruz’s triumphant appearance over the weekend at the Texas GOP convention. As Karen Tumulty puts it, Cruz “bestrode” the 8,000-strong gathering “like a colossus,” confirming that “the entire Texas GOP appears to have been made over in Cruz’s image.”
Exhibit A: Immigration reform. Reuters reports that the Texas GOP jettisoned its old, soft position on immigration — one designed to keep the GOP demographically “relevant” — and replaced it with a harder-line platform that “calls for securing the border with Mexico, offering no amnesty for anyone in the country illegally and ending in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants.”
Which should serve as a reminder of what might happen if Republicans don’t act on immigration reform before the August recess. If the GOP’s refusal to act confirms that this year it is Steve King’s party, next year it very well may be Ted Cruz’s party.
The House GOP agenda for June does not include immigration reform. While it’s always conceivable House GOP leaders could act before the August recess, the chances appear remote, and Republicans say privately that they can still act next year. But at that point we’ll need another Senate bill on top of getting something through the House, and the GOP presidential primary will be underway. It seems safe to assume that Ted Cruz — who is expected to run — will demagogue the heck out of the issue, yanking the GOP field to the right. This rightward lurch by the Cruz-controlled Texas GOP offers a preview of what that might look like.
On Friday, Cruz opined that a recent spike in illegal immigration from Central America that has overwhelmed the border was the direct result of Obama’s decision to de-prioritize the deportation of DREAMers, because “Obama’s lawlessness” had prompted “a change in behavior.”
That spike in illegal immigration has multiple causes. But Cruz’s simple-minded assessment is basically a restatement of what has become the de facto GOP position on the issue. As I have tried to show, the GOP position — such as it is — is essentially that Obama’s de-prioritization of removals of low-level offenders from the interior is unacceptable, and that Republicans cannot support any form of legalization for the 11 million due to “distrust” of Obama, which can only be rectified by maximum deportation of people with lives here.
It’s true that the House GOP immigration reform principles include legalization (with tough conditions attached). But Ted Cruz denounced that mere principle as “amnesty.” What’s more, Cruz wanted to amend the Senate bill to require years of efforts to increase security before anyone can even apply for legal status, and wouldn’t even say whether he’d have supported the bill if he’d gotten his way.
This is the guy who may have a great deal of influence over the immigration debate next year. For context, note that many possible GOP presidential contenders — such as Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio — have flirted with constructive positions on immigration, suggesting they think getting right on the issue is crucial for the party’s 2016 chances. Should Cruz demagogue it in a bid for far right GOP primary voters, it could make it harder for others to stake out moderate positions — making it harder for Congressional Republicans to act, too.
It’s always possible Republicans will succeed in passing reform next year, but Ted Cruz’s demagoguery could very well make it a good deal harder. It isn’t as if we haven’t seen this before: look what happened to the GOP’s Latino support when the party was pulled to the right on the issue last time around. Never mind 47 percent. Try 27 percent. And in 2016, with the Latino share of the vote set to rise in many key swing states, Ted Cruz’s party could actually fare worse.