Over at the Washington Post, Greg Sargent attempts to decipher a strategy by Sen. Marco Rubio to sell comprehensive immigration reform to conservatives by portraying its passage as a defeat for President Obama. According to Sargent, the central question facing GOP backers is, “how can Republicans who want immigration reform get conservatives to accept it, given that Obama also wants it?”
Sargent’s interpretation is overly complicated, and his assumption about conservative opposition is misguided. There’s no doubt that some GOP supporters of immigration reform have tried to argue that their version of reform would be better for conservatives than the status quo. Also, that if immigration reform passes, Democrats won’t be able to use it as a wedge issue. But Sargent errs by thinking that conservative opposition is rooted merely in a desire to reject a policy that Obama supports. After all, grassroots conservatives revolted against immigration reform even more fiercely than they are now when President Bush was campaigning for it. Conservatives who oppose the legislation have principled objections to it.
No doubt, the status quo makes it easier for Democrats to portray Republicans as anti-Hispanic and is a barrier to Republicans winning over this fast-growing demographic. On the other hand, Democrats will portray Republicans as anti-Hispanic no matter what, and the immigration bill, should it become law, would almost certainly create more Democratic voters than Republican ones. A Pew poll published last year found that while Hispanics are more pro-life than the national average, they’re more likely to identify as liberal than the general public. Also, when asked for a preference between a bigger government with more services or a smaller government with fewer services, 41 percent of the country as a whole favored bigger government, but 75 percent of Hispanics did. Among first generation Hispanics, 81 percent favored bigger government — or roughly double the national average, compared with just 12 percent who favored smaller government.
When it comes to the politics of immigration, Republicans are screwed either way. So they may as well ignore the politics and vote for their preferred policy outcomes.