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Friday, November 9, 2012

Obama's Re-election Has Spurred a GOP Paradigm Shift on Immigration Reform

Posted By on Fri, Nov 9, 2012 at 4:00 PM

The "legals" cost the GOP the White House.
  • The "legals" cost the GOP the White House.
One of the conventional criticisms of President Obama's first term was that he failed to live up to the "Hope" and "Change" rhetoric on which he campaigned in 2008. Many Obama supporters, even ones who concede this point, defended him by stressing the partisan gridlock and the key policies the president enacted despite the Republican obstructionism.

The rhetoric, naturally, was tamped down this time around. To Obama's supporters -- and 83 percent of San Franciscans qualify as such -- the political lesson had been learned: Winning the White House brings no mandate, no automatic paradigm shift on the important issues, no surrender from the opposition. At least not these days.

See also: Immigration Policy: People Are Still Falling Into the Gaps

The country is deeply divided on certain issues -- no matter how sensible the policy proposal -- and everybody's just going to have to deal with it.

So the following observation has been like a vodka-Red Bull at 3 a.m.: Obama's reelection appears to have triggered a significant paradigm shift on immigration reform.

Here's what House Speaker John Boehner -- the de facto Republican standard-bearer -- told Diane Sawyer yesterday, as reported by the New York Times:

"This issue has been around far too long," he said, "and while I believe it's important for us to secure our borders and to enforce our laws, I think a comprehensive approach is long overdue, and I'm confident that the president, myself, others, can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all."

Here's what conservative pundit Sean Hannity said on his radio show yesterday:

"We've got to get rid of the immigration issue altogether. It's simple to me to fix it. I think you control the border first. You create a pathway for those people that are here. You don't say you've got to go home. And that is a position that I've evolved on. Because, you know what, it's got to be resolved. The majority of people here, if some people have criminal records you can send them home, but if people are here, law-abiding, participating for years, their kids are born here, you know, it's first secure the border, pathway to citizenship, done, whatever little penalties you want to put in there, if you want, and it's done."

Last night Rupert Murdoch tweeted, "Must have sweeping, generous immigration reform, make existing law- abiding Hispanics welcome. Most are hard working family people."

As the Washington Post's Ezra Klein, who noted this trend in his Wonkblog this morning, pondered, "Game change?"

It's all a long way from the "self-deportation" policy Republicans have pushed for the last three or four years, and codified in Arizona and Alabama. This policy was on Mitt Romney's platform -- perhaps because he felt it necessary in order to secure his party's nomination. Even the moderate John McCain turned tough on immigration in 2010 to hold on to his Senate seat. In that infamous campaign ad, McCain and Sheriff Paul Babeu walked along the border fence, as Babeu pointed out that, "Of all the illegals in America, more than half come through Arizona."

"Complete the danged fence," McCain seethed.

Today, though, McCain, who used to support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, tweeted, "I agree with the calls for comprehensive immigration reform."

As everybody's been talking about this week, the 2012 election was all about demographics, and the Republicans need to do some "soul-searching." Obama won 70 percent of the fastest growing demographic's vote, tilting Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, and even Florida into his favor. By contrast, George W. Bush won over 44 percent of Hispanic voters in 2004.

This election cycle, Republicans had to know the demographics were gradually working against them. Apparently -- given that the Romney campaign assumed that there would be lower minority turnout than there was in 2008 -- the tide hit the shore sooner than party leaders expected.

"If Republicans again oppose immigration reform, they risk cementing their reputation as obstructionists and, in the process, tightening the Democrats' hold on a large and rapidly growing constituency," the Bloomberg View editorial board wrote. "This is tantamount to political surrender, if not suicide."

Republicans didn't turn off Hispanics purely with their immigration policies. The hostile "us vs. them" rhetoric behind those policies played a big role, too. Here's something to watch for: Will Republicans phase out "illegals" and adopt reform advocates' preferred term, "undocumented immigrants"?

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Albert Samaha


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