GOP Establishment Strongly Backing Immigration Reform as Conservative Talkers Resist

Nate Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch

Nate Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch

It’s clear that there’s now a split in the Republican Party over immigration reform — a split that some analysts including Republicans fear could prove toxic if either side is totally turned off by the outcome. In one corner, GOP establishment types. In the other, members of the party’s dominant talk radio political culture (led by Rush Limbaugh) who feel immigration reform would be political suicide for the party. And if there has been one lesson in the past 20 years it is: whatever Rush Limbaugh utters, there are some who will reword it and utter it — and Republican politicos will eventually fall in line. Some key members of the conservative political entertainment media are trying to use the events in Boston to put the brakes on immigration reform.

First Read notes that the Republican establishment isn’t sitting around waiting for conservative talkers and others to derail it: they’re taking a strong position and making sure everyone knows it.

*** GOP establishment fully pushing immigration reform: On immigration, the group Americans for a Conservative Direction — led by Haley Barbour, former Jeb Bush Chief of Staff Sally Bradshaw, Facebook’s Joel Kaplan, Dan Senor, and Rob Jesmer — is up with a TV ad selling immigration reform to Republicans. And the ad features Sen. Marco Rubio, who says, “Anyone who thinks what we have right now on immigration is fooling themselves. What we have in place today is de-facto amnesty.” A narrator then adds, “Conservative leaders have a plan — the toughest enforcement measure in the history of the United States.” And the narrator concludes, “Stand with Marco Rubio to end de-facto amnesty.” Per the Tampa Bay Times, the seven-figure ad buy will air statewide in Florida, plus markets in Texas, Utah, North Carolina, Iowa, and Kentucky.” If you wanted another example how the GOP establishment is fully behind immigration reform, it’s this ad. More importantly, the ad is targeted in states with key Republican senators who could either torpedo immigration (Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul), or help it get to 75 votes (Orrin Hatch, John Cornyn, Richard Burr, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Grassley).

There are many conservatives who believe the time has come to act on this issue. Among them: conservative blogger Ed Morrissey who writing in The Week notes how some have tried to suggest that the Boston Marathon bombing and bombers should be a reason to slow (and some even hint halt) immigration reform. Morrissey explores a bunch of the issues in play and says: NO DELAY.

Overall, I take an agnostic view of the Gang of Eight proposal. … We need to find a way to treat the people encouraged by the U.S. to provide cheap labor over the years in a humane fashion while prioritizing those who played by the rules to live in the U.S., and that process should allow us to get a much clearer idea of who is in the country — and narrow considerably the search for those “hiding in the shadows” for malicious reasons. But national security has to come first, if for no other reason than to avoid having to address the same issues all over again a decade down the road. Does this bill do that? So far, the triggers don’t appear to have significant teeth, but the debate and amendment process may well improve them to ensure that we actually solve the problems we face.

Either way, there is no reason to delay consideration of these issues any longer than we already have. Either the Gang of Eight proposal deals with these issues properly or it doesn’t, but let’s debate it now and find out. If the Boston bombing case raises other questions about refugee policy, take those up as well, either separately or jointly. But let’s get past the non sequiturs and start dealing with these issues in a rational manner. Otherwise, we risk making “national security” and “self-government” the biggest non sequiturs of all.

Still, as The Atlantic’s Brian Resnik notes: talk radio sandbagged George W. Bush’s bipartisan attempt at immigration reform and the question is whether it can do so again:

In the summer of 2007, such a coordinated effort among talk-radio hosts killed a George W. Bush-backed, bipartisan immigration deal that was gaining momentum in Congress.

“The conservative hosts really did make a crusade,” Mark Jurkowitz, a media researcher with Pew, said. “It’s hard to quantify how many [senators'] votes were changed in 2007, I don’t know. But I do know the talk hosts — and probably no one more so than Rush Limbaugh – are very capable of motivating their listeners to make calls about a certain issue.” (Limbaugh was not present at the FAIR event. It was mostly regional outlets.)

During the lead up to the vote in the Senate, immigration was the No. 1 story across mediums. It amounted to 9 percent of the news hole, a slightly higher share than the burgeoning presidential race. But conservative talk radio took it to the next level–immigration made up 31 percent of their coverage.
The talk-radio sparked deluge was great:

Trent Lott, the Republican Senate whip in 2007, received a lot of those calls from talk-radio listeners. “I’ve had my phones jammed for three weeks,” he told The Washington Post at the time. “Talk radio is running America,” he lamented after the bill’s defeat. “We have to deal with that problem.”

But it’s not 2007. There’s a growing libertarian bent in the Republican Party, a bent that might favor a freer flow of labor. Then there’s Marco Rubio, a “Gang of Eight” member and rising conservative star. While his legislation is not finding favor among the talk-radio hosts, he still holds their respect.

And while Pew no longer collects week-by-week data on news coverage, it doesn’t take a survey to know immigration is not the top story. That was apparent just walking around the broadcast stations. Much of the talk was about Boston.

“Obviously the attention is going to be there and should be there,” Helen Glover, a Rhode Island-area host (and former Survivor contestant) said. “It’s a balance, because we’re so close to Boston, it needs to have equal amount. We try to weave them both in at the same time.”

“I’m afraid [immigration] is going to be subdued,” she said.

To be sure, this time around, as Bloomberg notes, Republicans are trying to temper over-the-top, talk show style rhetoric about immigration reform that alienates the Hispanic voters that fled from the party in the 2012 Presidential election:

A growing group of Republicans are adopting a softer tone on the issue with the recognition that their old rhetoric, as much as their policy positions, alienated

That means phrases such as “amnesty” for “illegals” or “aliens” and “anchor babies,” a reference to U.S.-born children of immigrants lacking proper authorization, are mostly out. Terms such as “undocumented immigrants,” for those without legal standing, providing a way to obtain “earned legal status,” and fixing a “broken system” are in.

Republican strategists and some lawmakers pressing for immigration changes have been privately lobbying lawmakers to clean up their rhetoric as Congress begins considering a revision of immigration laws.

Words alone won’t be sufficient. Republican officials argue that if they are to win presidential and more statewide races, they must act to build consensus within their party for changing immigration laws. Even those who don’t embrace the legislative effort recognize that less vitriolic language is critical to making amends with Hispanic voters while reassuring law-and- order-minded Republicans who have opposed previous immigration overhauls.

But I boldfaced Limbaugh’s name for a reason. The history of the Republican Party in recent years at several key points has been where expectations are that the GOP must and will take a certain path — and then Limbaugh says “Whoa!” and does a riff. That riff then becomes the riff for a substantial number of new media writers, people in comments, people calling Congress, etc.

Watch Limbaugh et. al closely. If he gives leeway to GOPers on this issue, immigration reform will occur. But if the argument becomes “it’s only going to help the Democrat Party” — Limbaugh uses the nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyaaaaah–teasing phrase when referring to the DEMOCRATIC Party (and other ideologues have taken it up) because he knows Democrats don’t like it — and that’s picked up, then real immigration reform may be doomed.

And, if so, many analysts believe, so will the long-term ability of the Republican Party to win national elections as there the old white people and divisive Baby Boomers are increasingly outnumbered and a more diverse population, where younger generations become more politically dominant.

And tolerant.

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h/T Bloomberg quote Political Wire