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What They’re Thinking, If Anything

All the talk on conservative talk radio lately has been about immigration reform, and mostly it concerns an expected capitulation on some sort of euphemized amnesty by the Republican congressional leadership. The most discussed issue, of course, is about what in the world the Republican congressional leadership is thinking.
Although the expected capitulation is not yet a done deal, and some reliable sources are reporting that cooler heads in the Republican caucus might yet prevail, there is ample reason for concern. Enough Senate Republicans have already gone wobbly to help pass a bill so awful that it has been endorsed by President Barack Obama, several prominent House Republicans have been making worrisome pronouncements in recent months, and last week the party’s leaders issued a statement of principles on the immigration issue that strikes the more rock-ribbed rank-and-file of the GOP as insufficiently principled. Given the leadership’s spotty track record of acting according to its constituents’ will, conservatives can be forgiven for already cussing the as-yet-unannounced deal.
Also understandable is the confusion about what could possibly cause the leadership to act so stupidly. Perhaps they have a sincere belief that a path to citizenship for the industrious undocumented workers who have been forced to live in the shadows as they have contributed so much to our country is the best and fairest economic policy for America, but sincere beliefs are a far-fetched explanation for any politician’s actions, and especially so if it is a self-proclaimed Republican sincerely believing that flooding an already depressed labor market with millions more unskilled laborers flouting the law is either fair or good for the economy. Politics is usually a plausible reason for a politician’s actions, but in this case the leadership’s reported stand would provide the opposition with millions of additional voters while further enraging its own base of support. With neither of these usual explanations at hand, many conservatives have sought to explain the Republican leadership’s inexplicable behavior with strange theories that it’s all part of a plan to limit the party’s widely expected gains in the upcoming mid-term elections and thereby set up a more favorable political climate in the 2016 presidential race or some similarly convoluted scheme.
A more likely explanation is that the leadership is more concerned with the potential donations of the party’s big business wing that is eager for a wage-depressing flood of cheap new labor, but even if that is the case they’re still making the wrong political calculations. After running a series of exceedingly immigrant-friendly presidential candidates who lost the Latino vote by landslide margins it should be clear that the party won’t benefit from further immigration any time soon, and the costs of the full-scale conservative revolt that a capitulation will provoke cannot be paid by any amount of corporate donations. The expense of fending off primary challenges against every single Republican who goes along with this nonsense will eat up most of the money, and when disgruntled conservatives stay home in the general elections the price will be higher yet.
Should the Republicans stand fast against any sort of amnesty for illegal immigrants it would likely bolster their chances in the mid-terms and several elections beyond. Much of the opposition to unfettered immigration comes from such traditional Democratic voting blocs as African-Americans, low-wage workers, and union members, and although it’s unlikely any of them could be persuaded to vote for a Republican the issue could keep many of them at home and safely away from the polls. Even the big business wing of the party might be persuaded to continue contributing the big bucks against a party that wants to flood the market with cheap unskilled labor but simultaneously make it more expensive with a rise in the minimum wage, and the Republicans could truly make the compelling claim that they are a party of competitive free market capitalism and not crony corporatism.

— Bud Norman

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