The authors of the Senate immigration bill are now openly admitting that citizenship for illegal immigrants — already a bridge too far — is no longer even being linked to strengthening the border. As Byron York writes in the Washington Examiner, Sen. Richard Durbin (D.-Ill.), a member of the Gang of Eight, told National Journal, “We have de-linked a pathway to citizenship and border enforcement.”
This comes on the heels of Sen. Marco Rubio’s recent admission on Univision that illegal immigrants would be legalized before the border is secured (which, in turn, would incentivize even more illegal immigrants to arrive and hence become legalized before the border is secured). Rubio said, “First comes the legalization. Then come the measures to secure the border.”
One can only imagine the reaction to a Republican presidential candidate in the primaries who had backed this legalization-first, border-later, citizenship-for-all (except for felons) approach. In the most recent primaries, Newt Gingrich sensibly proposed granting legalized status — not citizenship — to some well-established illegal immigrants (if they had a local sponsor who was an American citizen and if their application was approved by a community board perhaps modeled after those apparently used during the WWII Selective Services drafts). But Gingrich didn’t support granting citizenship, and he didn’t support granting legal status until after the border was secured.
Then Mitt Romney ran a terrible campaign (complete with infamously advocating “self-deportation”), and the Republican establishment — loathe to admit Romney’s unique political weaknesses or the abysmal failure of his strategy of neglecting Obamacare and nearly everything else of substance — immediately starting pushing the narrative that he (and hence they) were merely the passive victims of shifting demographics.
But as York — whose coverage of the immigration debate has been outstanding — has previously written, these claims simply don’t appear to accord with the facts. According to exit polling, President Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote. According to Nate Silver’s electoral calculator, if Obama had instead won just 29 percent of the Hispanic vote — so, if Hispanic support had more or less completely flipped — he still would have beaten Romney in the electoral vote. (In that scenario, Romney could have taken some minor solace in winning the popular vote.)
In other words, Republicans cannot accurately blame Romney’s defeat on his poor showing with Hispanic voters. As York writes,
“Romney was not able to connect with white voters who were so turned off by the campaign that they abandoned the GOP and in many cases stayed away from the polls altogether. Recent reports suggest as many as 5 million white voters simply stayed home on Election Day. If they had voted at the same rate they did in 2004, even with the demographic changes since then, Romney would have won.”
Romney also would have won if he had made even relatively modest gains among the portion of white voters who actually did decide to vote. According to Silver’s calculator — as York notes — if Romney had boosted his support among white voters from 60 percent (his tally according to exit polling) to just 64 percent, he would have won both the popular vote and the electoral vote.
While well-conceived immigration reform (like the type Gingrich proposed) is needed, it is becoming increasingly hard to see what Republicans would hope to accomplish by passing anything like the Senate immigration bill — or, for that matter, any immigration bill that Obama would actually be willing to sign. The smarter course would be to pass a sensible bill through the House with no illusions about Obama (and the Democratically controlled Senate) ever allowing it to become law. At that point, Republicans could take satisfaction in having passed legislation through their chamber that (if not for the president’s and the Senate’s opposition) would make things better, and in not having allowed the passage of legislation through their chamber that would make things worse.