Certainly the president’s trail of foreign policy blunders and domestic policy missteps give Republicans an excuse to simply stick to a negative message. When Democrats decry the latest episode in the war on coal and coal workers and when consternation on both sides of the aisle rises about the decision to set free five hardened terrorist leaders, it is easy for Republicans to sit back, throw darts at the Democrats and watch the Democratic base sink into a funk. But temptation should be resisted in this case.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)<br />(Brendan Smialowskia/AFP/Getty Images) House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)
(Brendan Smialowskia/AFP/Getty Images)

There is still a need for an Obamacare alternative. And then there is immigration reform. Republican opponents of immigration reform say they don’t want to talk about it. But here’s the thing: “If Republicans do nothing, Obama will do something on deportation in August, Republicans will scream about executive overreach and Democrats will paint Republicans as simply intolerant and anti-immigrant.” That is the take of conservative economist and immigration reform proponent Doug Holtz-Eakin of the American Action Forum. He concludes, “In short, they WILL talk about immigration this year, whether they like it or not.  It would be way better to do it on their terms by passing something they favor.” That logic doesn’t tempt the hardline immigration reform proponents, but it should give Republicans in the mainstream of their party reason to consider their next moves.

The shame of the Republicans’ timidity is that immigration reform is excellent, conservative policy. The popular Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder discovered that. A local business news outlet reports:

Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan to promote legal immigration as an economic strategy for metro Detroit is supported by an overwhelming majority of businesspeople in Southeast Michigan.

A survey commissioned by Crain’s Detroit Business and Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP, and conducted by Lansing-based Epic-MRA Corp., found that 76 percent thought Snyder’s plan was a good idea. Most saw it as a way to attract and retain skilled, smart and talented people. Respondents also cited creating good-paying jobs and improving the economy as reasons. . . .

The individual pieces of Snyder’s immigration proposals aimed at attracting highly educated immigrants also received high marks with those polled.

One piece of his plan, which has been accomplished — federal approval of a state-sponsored EB-5 regional center — saw 79 percent support, with 12 percent opposing it.

The same holds true for Snyder’s proposal “to change the federal immigration system so that foreign students who receive advanced degrees in state universities do not have to return to their country upon graduation.”

Snyder understands that to  revitalize business, create new high-tech hubs and restore property values, states need to attract those willing to take risks, work hard and educate themselves — skilled immigrants, in other words. Certainly there are tougher issues when it comes to low-skilled workers and legalizing those already here. But for Republicans it makes sense to start with popular and pro-growth items like high-skilled workers.  Pair that with something for DREAM Act enlistees and you have a politically attractive package that Democrats will find hard to denigrate.

In sum, doing nothing plays into the Democrats’ hands. Moving forward defines the immigration debate on the GOP’s terms and puts the Democrats on defense in trying to explain their opposition to popular measures. As always, the GOP may be its own worst enemy on this topic. However, with critical primaries soon over and the rise of practical, reform-minded conservatives, House Republicans have a chance to get it right. Whether they will remains in doubt.