When House Republicans killed immigration reform earlier this year, demographically non-delusional members of the party quietly told reporters that the GOP could always do immigration reform in 2015, and begin to repair relations with Latinos in time for the 2016 presidential election.
To judge how realistic this proposition is, take a look at the candidacy of Dan Patrick, the Republican vying to be Lieutenant Governor of Texas.
Patrick, a former radio host who is basing his run on remarkably lurid claims about the need to secure the border, is an important figure to watch to understand the GOP’s trajectory on immigration, and by extension, the party’s future relations with Latinos. Patrick is almost certain to win; he will be in a position of great influence in a state that is home to much of the border with Mexico — and well positioned to pull the party further right on the issue, particularly if another crisis flares up.
To see what this might look like, check out Patrick’s latest ad. It raises the specter of ISIS terrorists crossing the border to kill Americans, links that to his Democratic opponent’s opposition to sending the National Guard to the border and her support for in-state tuition for residents brought to this country illegally. “National security begins with border security — and that begins with the Texas Rangers and National Guard,” Patrick says. “Border security will be my top priority.”
As Ron Brownstein expains, this provides a hint as to the broader GOP radicalization that is underway on immigration, and what that will mean for the 2016 presidential race. It’s occurring in a state that’s home to a lot of Latinos and to Republicans that had previously been moderating on immigration — as evidenced by the fact that Governor Rick Perry signed the tuition policy that Patrick is attacking:
This dramatic shift, in the state that had previously built the most promising conservative model for attracting Hispanics, underscores how thoroughly immigration hard-liners have regained the advantage in the GOP….
President Obama’s pledge to use executive authority to provide some of those undocumented immigrants legal status, the surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America, and rising anxiety over global threats as diverse as ISIS and the Ebola virus have all combined to harden the GOP’s conservative tilt on these issues. Against that backdrop, Republican campaigns this fall are ringing with denunciations of “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants and warnings that terrorists might be surging across the Mexican border.
As Brownstein notes, unlike some Republicans Texas such as Perry and George W. Bush…
Texas Republicans today strike very different notes. Patrick, a state senator and talk-radio host, is the most inflammatory. He has described illegal immigration as an “invasion” and warned that undocumented immigrants “are bringing Third World diseases with them.”
Perhaps Patrick is a rhetorical outlier in the party. But consider the broad sweep of what we’ve seen lately. Arkansas Congressman and Senate candidate Tom Cotton, who is supposed to be a uniter of the Tea Party and GOP establishment, claims that ISIS terrorists are collaborating with Mexican drug gangs to infiltrate the border and kill people in Arkansas. This didn’t really register at all with the national press corps, as if this has now become par for the course. And it has: GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter went on national TV and casually claimed a bunch of ISIS fighters were detained at the border, citing a far right legal group as a source.
Meanwhile, even more “moderate” Republicans running for Senate in purple-ish states, such as Scott Brown and Terri Lynn Land, are flogging the migrant crisis to fear-monger about the border. As David Weigel has noted, Karl Rove’s outside group is running ads hitting Democrats over “amnesty,” even though Rove had previously urged the GOP to adopt immigration reform (which would include said “amnesty”) for the long-term good of the party. RNC chair Reince Priebus — who had also previously urged the GOP to adopt reform, lest its appeal “shrink to its core constituencies only” — recently rolled out another rebrand that appeared to abandon reform as a goal.
House Republicans voted to end Obama’s program to defer deportations of people brought here illegally as children, and will mount another stand if Obama unilaterally expands that program, locking the GOP into a stance that calls for ever more deportations. One imagines Ted Cruz will demagogue that to the hilt as part of his 2016 presidential run. Even Marco Rubio — the great Latino hope of the GOP — was recently spotted dressing down DREAMers as a crowd of South Carolina conservatives hooted and jeered, another signal of where this is all headed once the GOP primary heats up.
One supposes it’s possible Republicans could pass some species of immigration reform if they take the Senate, but it’s hard to imagine the party moderating on the issue to any meaningful extent at this point. Indeed, this is another argument for Obama to act ambitiously to defer deportations after the elections. Some liberals worry he will lose his nerve if Republicans take the Senate, and commentators have pointed out that Obama’s delay is now hurting Dems among Latinos. But, putting aside the legal dimensions of the debate over deferring deportations, the raw political incentives favor acting. It could help restore the a dynamic in which Democrats continue establishing themselves as the pro-immigration party while Republicans solidify their image as hostile and unwelcoming to Latinos. As the new Patrick ad and other recent GOP moves suggest, Republicans may be happy to play along.