Get Ready For More Republican Rumbles Over Immigration Reform

If you want to get a sense of what the rest of 2014 will look like, watch this debate from Fox News Sunday, in which talk-radio host Laura Ingraham gets all talk radio on George F. Will, who makes the establishment GOP argument in favor of immigration reform.

Ingraham’s argument peaks with the absurd “why have borders at all?”

Right-wing fire breathers like Ingraham and Michelle Malkin haven’t been fooled by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) insisting that immigration reform can’t happen unless they trust President Obama.

While many have insisted this means reform is dead for this year, TheWashington Post‘s Greg Sargent points out that this dance is meant to appease the base, which will never tolerate reform. Simultaneously, it signals to those Republicans who know they need reform to be competitive in 2016 and beyond that he’s still working on a proposal that might be able to pass both houses of Congress. But if he can’t, it’s Obama’s fault! #tcot

Republicans’ biggest problem is that Democrats keep saying yes. They said yes to the House disregarding the Senate’s bipartisan bill and yes to doing reform piecemeal. On Sunday, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called Boehner’s bluff and announced Democrats would be willing to delay implementation of the law until after President Obama leaves office.

Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel responded,  “The suggestion is entirely impractical, since it would totally eliminate the president’s incentive to enforce immigration law for the remainder of his term.”

In Republican world, it’s a given that Obama cannot be trusted, says Sargent. And the president’s success at securing the border while carrying out a record number of deportations — to the chagrin of his political allies — just never happened.

But Republican strategists know this denial of reality will work in 2014, and likely never again.

House leaders, already half-pregnant with reform, know they will be blamed if the effort fails. The release of Republican immigration “principles” triggered a flood of backlash from a far right that has mastered the art of backlash by utilizing robocalls and social media to pressure lawmakers and fundraise. Anything resembling finalized legislation will have to wait until after the primary filing deadline when members may be slightly more willing to deal.

Boehner has to decide if he can withstand the heat of a huge chunk of his party that will forever move the goalposts on reform because no deal that will be signed by a Democratic president will ever be acceptable.

Obviously, the Speaker knows this issue is crucial to his party’s future, or he wouldn’t even be dabbling in it. If reform doesn’t happen in 2014, even possibly in a lame-duck session, it will have to be abandoned until after the next election, likely leaving the GOP nominee with a smaller share of the growing Latino vote than Mitt Romney, who got less than John McCain, who got less than George W. Bush.

Or the debate can become part of the 2016 GOP primary, giving Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) his dream opportunity to launch filibuster after filibuster as a telethon for his presidential campaign.

If Republicans could have easily walked away from this issue, they would have already.

For the establishment whose business is pleasing donors and winning elections, reaching out to minority voters through some sort of reform is essential. For talk radio and the far right, bashing the establishment is increasingly profitable.

While a full-out civil war is unlikely — the party always manages to coalesce when it’s time to face an Obama or a Clinton — a full-on rumble is a near-certainty. And both sides cannot win.

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