I'm just a dumb outsider who doesn't know what all the smart insiders know, but I never thought the GOP would go for an immigration plan that included a path to citizenship -- though I was hesitant to express my doubts because all the smart insiders told me it was absolutely a done deal.
Now those same insiders say immigration reform is dead, to their utter amazement:
Republicans walked away from their 2012 debacle hell-bent on fixing their problems with Hispanics. Now, they appear hell-bent on making them worse.The conventional narrative of this is that establishment Republicans still want to pass a bill, but the Steve King wing of the party has spoiled the "sensible" Republicans' plans. I guess I believe that -- though I wonder about the most ambitious Republican connected with the reform effort, Marco Rubio, who was sending signs that he might want to bail on the whole reform process as far back as January. Did Rubio ever really care whether a bill got passed? Or maybe what I mean is this: Has he really been thinking all along that the only way he and his party can get a win out of this is by passing a bill?
In private conversations, top Republicans on Capitol Hill now predict comprehensive immigration reform will die a slow, months-long death in the House. Like with background checks for gun buyers, the conventional wisdom that the party would never kill immigration reform, and risk further alienating Hispanic voters, was always wrong -- and ignored the reality that most House Republicans are white conservatives representing mostly white districts.
These members, and the vast majority of their voters, couldn't care less whether Marco Rubio, Bill O’Reilly and Karl Rove say this is smart politics and policy....
I've suspected for a while that his plan was to seem supportive of a bill, then step back and watch as Republicans found some excuse to kill reform. Then he could run for president in 2016 with this message:
"President Obama failed to deliver comprehensive immigration reform, but where he failed, I'll succeed."
If he's right-wing enough on everything else, and if all the other 2016 primary candidates are wingnuttier and split the wingnut vote, and if he says "border security" enough times in the same breath as "comprehensive immigration reform," then maybe he can be in 2016 what McCain was in 2008 and Romney was in 2012: the guy who wins the Republican nomination even though he's not the most right-wing candidate. And then, if he can pull off this needle-threading, maybe he can pick up a few additional Hispanic votes without alienating too many white right-wingers. So maybe he doesn't care whether a bill is passed. Maybe arguing that he can get the job done (without ever quite explaining how) would be better for him than helping to get a bill passed.
The secret weapon for Rubio in all this might be the press. Sooner or later, I predict that the narrative on immigration could change from "crazy-base Republicans killed it" to "nothing gets done in Washington as long as we have divided government." Recall that that was a message Mitt Romney and his backers tried to use to sell us on his candidacy.
I know it strains credulity to think that a GOP House, an officially or effectively GOP Senate, and President Rubio could get a real immigration bill passed, but I can imagine nominee Rubio making that argument in a general-election campaign -- and idiots in the mainstream press buying it.
So maybe Rubio didn't care about anything in this process except getting an A for effort. And maybe he'll run as the guy who can succeed where a Democratic president failed.
And maybe we'll be stupid enough to believe him.