Months or even weeks ago, I would not have predicted 68 votes in the Senate for passage of an immigration bill. Some winners in this are obvious (e.g. the Gang of Eight) and some losers are as well (e.g. Heritage), but let’s look at some others.
Conservative think tanks: With the exception of Heritage, virtually all well-known think tanks on the right actively supported the immigration effort or engaged in research which helped pro-immigration lawmakers. They showed themselves to be effective and relevant.
Evangelicals: There was a reason Rubio read from Exodus and referenced the Judeo-Christian tradition. Evangelicals are important players and in this case, a good many of them were with the reformers. That dynamic was entirely missing in 2007. They clearly matter beyond issues like marriage and abortion.
Supply-siders: The Congressional Budget Office used dynamic scoring to show the economic benefits of immigration. They were successful in helping move the party from a green eye-shade focus on cutting spending to one that looks to expand the pie.
The GOP: Talking to reporters after the vote, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said:
One interesting point which should be noted is that virtually every Republican member of the Senate has now accepted legalization of illegal immigrants in the United States. The only dispute is over the ‘how’ and ‘when.’ Republican Senators in 2013, almost to a person, rejected the idea that 11 million people are going to self-deport or we are going to put them all in jail. The solutions Republicans offered, regardless of the combination on hows and whens, realize that tough, practical remedies to illegal immigration will include legalization. The days of the Republican Party being the party of self-deportation are over.
For our party to adopt a practical solution to illegal immigration is a step in the right direction and will help us grow our numbers. Conservatism is our strongest asset and in good standing with all corners of the United States, particularly the Hispanic community.
He added, “The voices of [anti-immigration former congressman]Tom Tancredo are being overwhelmed by Republicans who now want tough but practical solutions.” That might be premature, but the vote certainly put the reformers in the GOP out ahead of the “just scream louder” set.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.): He disappointed libertarians and high-tech donors by failing to play a constructive role in immigration, while his grandstanding was overshadowed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). He merely confirmed his reputation as an odd duck non-player.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.): He went from a pro-reform senator, one who castigated Mitt Romney in 2012 for turning off Hispanics (e.g. by telling them to “self-deport”) to a no vote on the Gang of 8. In his last election he got 36 percent of the Hispanic vote. That is likely to go down. He’s lost quite a bit of luster and now is even more dependent on Texas’s junior senator to drag him across the finish line.
Far-right conservative media: As we saw in the selection of the GOP presidential nominee, these voices are loud and ultimately ineffective. Their patently silly claims (e.g. free scooters for illegal aliens!) were shot down, and, following Rubio’s example, a flock of GOP senators were not cowed by a few talk show hosts and a couple of dead-tree magazines.
Liberal pundits: Certain that they could blame Republicans once again for their anti-immigration views, in fact, a whole chunk of them fought tooth-and-nail at great political risk to pull off an unprecedented win. And to make matters worse, it is painfully obvious that in order to get this, the president had to keep quiet. No GOP conservatives to blame and no kudos for the White House. Grim stuff in the left-wing blogosphere.
The nuclear option: Why do you need to mess with the Senate rules when a historic bill cleared the body by a huge margin? Keeping the president overseas would do far more to encourage practical deal-making in the Senate.