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Thursday, June 21, 2018

WASHINGTON — South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the bipartisan Gang of Eight seeking historic reform of American immigration policy, has warned his party colleagues they’d better get aboard or forget about electing one of their own to the Oval Office in 2016.

While predicting the eventual bill will get more than 70 votes in the Senate, Graham said the Republican Party is “in a demographic death spiral” after having lost more than 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2012 presidential election. He argued that the main reason was its opposition to immigration reform urged widely among Latino voters.

One prominent member of the gang, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a prospective 2016 presidential candidate, has been a leading figure in the reform negotiations, pushing for a path to American citizenship for Hispanics in the country in conjunction with stronger security along the Mexican border.

But a political hangover from the 2012 campaign, in which GOP standard-bearer Mitt Romney became a target of Latino activists for clinging to what was inartfully referred to as “self-deportation,” still hovers over the debate. That is, the notion that illegal aliens residing here would have to return to their country of origin and get to the back of the line of applicants for legal entry and eventual citizenship.

Graham insisted on Sunday’s Meet the Press on NBC that “if we don’t pass immigration reform, if we don’t get it off the table in a reasonable, practical way, it doesn’t matter who you run in 2016.” He went on: “And the only way we can get back in good graces with the Hispanic community in my view is (to) pass comprehensive immigration reform. If you don’t do that, it really doesn’t matter who we run.”

That assessment is a reasonable one, but it seems to suggest that enactment of a more dependable gateway to citizenship for Hispanics already here and their family members will in itself throw open the floodgates to millions of such ethnic voters ready and eager to vote Republican.

More probable is that such immigration reform will only enlarge the pool of Latinos voting Democratic, based on past patterns and the general damage to the Republican brand by the eight years of the George W. Bush presidency and the hapless Romney campaign of 2012.