Own Immigration Reform

Dick Morris, March 26, 2013

It is not enough for the Republican Party to acquiesce in a bipartisan bill for immigration reform—the scars its image bears in the Latino community run too deep for that. Republicans need to get out in front on the issue. Immigration reform needs to be a Republican bill. Only then can we hope to heal the scars left from the party’s role in scuttling reform in 2005 and 2006.

Latinos, remember, were on the verge of voting Republican after 2004, when former President George W. Bush almost carried them against John Kerry in the presidential race. But then the courtship blew up in the GOP’s face when its base killed immigration reform. That failure to pass reform led directly to the loss of the Senate in 2006 and the election of President Obama in 2008—and then to his reelection in 2012. It qualifies as one of the major blunders in Republican history. Now is the time to correct it before our party becomes exiled to being a footnote in history.

{snip} The question hanging over the debate is whether a grassroots, talk-radio-led rebellion will beat immigration reform as it did Bush’s attempts to pass the bill in 2006.

But rank-and-file Republican voters are in a very different place now than they were then. John McLaughlin’s survey of 500 likely Republican voters taken in February 2013 shows deep and broad support for immigration reform. He found that 66 percent backed it conceptually, and that support swelled to 75 percent when Republicans heard the specifics of the bill from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). So, when the sides are drawn for the intra-party debate upon which the bill’s fate hinges, we can count on the base to back the bill, not to scuttle it.

Here, the very difficulty of the job of winning Republican votes will serve to focus attention on the changing attitudes of Republicans toward the issue. Now will be the chance for Republican leaders, in Congress and outside, to stand up and persuade their partisans that it is time to pass the bill. And, in the process, they will win a new opportunity to get the Latinos they lost the last time.

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