Just a year ago, the GOP appeared poised to rebrand itself as a more moderate and inclusiveÂ party. When the party released its âpost-mortemâ report on the 2012 election, one of the keyÂ findings was that the Republican Party âmust embrace and champion comprehensive immigrationÂ reform.” And if you look at the numbers â demographic data and opinion surveys âÂ you would say they were right.
So why did Speaker Boehner put a halt to any immigration reform this week? If you want toÂ understand it, or fully capture the context for Rep. RaÃºl Labradorâs (R-ID) widely reported belief that âitâsÂ a mistake for us to have an internal battle in the Republican Party this year about immigrationÂ reform,â you need to get inside the base of the Republican Party.
Support for immigration reform among all voters remains highâlast weekâs CNN/ORC pollÂ found that 54 percent of adults nationwide would support a plan to allow those already in theÂ country to become legal residents. Add to that employment, fluency in English, and back taxes,Â and support jumps to 81 percent.
But if you look at how this issue breaks down by party, just a third (34 percent) of RepublicansÂ say we should create a way to accommodate those already here. By contrast, 55 percentÂ of Independents and 69 percent of Democrats believe there should be a way for those alreadyÂ here to become legal residents. The problem lies within the Republican Partyâthat sameÂ survey found just 29 percent of Tea Party supporters favor a path to legal residency.
Last summer, we conducted a major national survey and 6 focus groups among members ofÂ the Republican Party. What we found made us skeptical that House Republicans would takeÂ any action on immigration reform in the near future.
Moderate Republicansâwho do support immigration reformâcomprise just a quarter of theÂ Republican Party. The core of the Republican Party (around 70 percent) is comprised of EvangelicalsÂ and Observant Christians, (47 percent) and Tea Party members (22 percent).
The activists who will vote in primaries and in the election next November are dominated byÂ Evangelical and Tea Party adherentsâand they staunchly reject immigration reform.
The whole notion is anathema to Evangelical Republicans, where this hits at the core. As theyÂ told us in our focus groups last summer,
âDonât come here and make me speak your language. Donât fly your flag. Youâre onÂ American soil. Youâre American.â; âYou come to our country, you need to learn ourÂ language.â (Evangelical man, Roanoke).
Why should I put “press 1” if I want to speak in English? You know, everythingâeveryÂ politically correct machine out there says, âPress 1 for English. Press 2 for Spanish.âÂ (Evangelical man, Roanoke)
And among Tea Party Republicans, immigration reform sounds like another plot to boost bothÂ the welfare rollsâand the rolls of the Democratic Party.
Thereâs so much of the electorate in those groups that Democrats are going to takeÂ every time because theyâve been on the rolls of the government their entire lives. TheyÂ donât know better. (Tea Party man, Raleigh)
Moderates are not only open to immigration reform, but welcome it as a smart economic policyÂ and as the only practical way forward. As moderate Republicans in our focus groups toldÂ us,
âI mean I don’t think it’s feasible to say, send everybody home;â (Moderate woman,Â Raleigh)
I mean it’s a huge struggle to get here illegally so I think if they are here illegallyâ¦they are not leaving. And that means they are going to be putting a toll on ourÂ roadsâ¦taking up space in classroomsâ¦so it would be nice if they were legal and theyÂ actually could be contributing to that tax circleâ¦I just think getting them a path toÂ that would be great. (Moderate woman, Raleigh)
But these are not the constituents John Boehner is thinking about right nowânor should heÂ be. He is listening to the anti-immigrant Tea Party members and Evangelicalsâthe real baseÂ of the Republican Party.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr