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Come Saturday Morning: Obama, Immigration, and the Cray-Cray

cray-cray

Well before November, the Senate Republicans had a big fat list of all the things they intended to do once they retook the upper chamber: kill the EPA, gut Federal employees’ pensions, hand out more free-money tax breaks to the rich, yadda yadda yadda.

But they can’t do any of that just yet, because their base is all riled up by the bright shiny object called “immigration”:

All but drowned out by Republicans’ clamorous opposition to President Obama’s executive action on immigration are some leaders who worry that their party could alienate the fastest-growing group of voters, for 2016 and beyond, if its hottest heads become its face.

They cite the Republican Party’s official analysis of what went wrong in 2012, the presidential-election year in which nominee Mitt Romney urged Latinos here illegally to “self-deport.”

“If Hispanics think that we do not want them here,” the report said, “they will close their ears to our policies.”

Well, no kidding, Sherlock.

McConnell and Boehner and in fact the entire institutional part of the Republican Party have spent the past year working to tone down the cray-cray in their candidates, both for this year’s midterms and for 2016. Many if not most of the nuttier Tea Partiers were defeated by well-funded establishment Republicans in the primaries, and the nutjobs that did make it to the general were immediately wrapped in cotton batting and kept from the media gaze except for carefully-choreographed appearances.

The election’s now over, and the Tea Party baby’s sick of being put in a corner for the better part of a year. The cray-cray was looking to explode, and as Kevin Drum notes, President Obama supplied the fuse and the lit match under folks like Steve King:

Ah yes, Steve King of Iowa. The odds of shutting him up are about zero, and with primary season approaching he’s going to become the de facto leader of the anti-immigration forces. In the same way that Republican candidates all have to kiss Sheldon Adelson’s ring and swear eternal loyalty to Israel if they want access to his billions, they’re going to have to kiss King’s ring and swear eternal hostility to any kind of immigration from south of the border—and they’re going to compete wildly to express this in the most colorful ways possible. And that’s a big problem. Expressing loyalty to Israel doesn’t really have much downside, but effectively denouncing the entire Hispanic population of the United States is going to steadily destroy any hopes Republicans have of ever appealing to this fast-growing voting bloc.

Even worse for the GOP, this throws off their game plan dramatically:

Republican leaders who had hoped to focus on corporate tax reform, fast-track trade pacts, repealing the president’s healthcare law and loosening environmental restrictions on coal are instead being dragged into an immigration skirmish that they’ve tried studiously to avoid for most of the last year.

That’s largely because the question of how to handle the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S. bitterly divides Republicans, and the party has been unable to agree on an alternative to the president’s plan.

To many, stark warnings from Boehner and McConnell sound more like pleas to the president to avoid reenergizing the GOP’s conservative wing, whose leaders are already threatening to link the president’s immigration plan to upcoming budget talks.

Another government shutdown is not what McConnell and Boehner had in mind when their party won control of Congress this month.

No, it wasn’t.

Mitch and Man-Tan had tried the impossible task of nurturing their base party members’ wildest fear fantasies and keeping them constantly on the edge of ragegasms, yet simultaneously keeping them away from getting in front of cameras belonging to mainstream media outlets. They managed to do it for a few months, but there was no way they could have done it for the next two years.

And it’s hilarious to hear the GOP’s paymasters, who wuvvved the Southern Strategy to bits earlier this month when race-based voter suppression helped keep this midterm election year’s turnout to historically low levels, suddenly try to tame the whirlwind they were instrumental in creating:

GOP leaders’ concerns about getting distracted by immigration are shared by the business community and outside groups that bankrolled the party’s recent electoral success. High hopes that the new Republican Congress would tackle economic and business issues could be dashed if the party were goaded into an immigration fight.

“We’re urging Republicans, whatever happens on immigration, let’s also stay focused,” said Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, which is aligned with the billionaire Koch brothers and spent millions in the midterm campaign supporting Republican candidates for Congress. The group has not taken a position on immigration.

“We just want to make sure this economic agenda is not lost, because there’s an enormous opportunity next year with Republicans who control the Senate and the House to … pass significant legislation,” Phillips said.

Philips knows that they only have two years. 2016 looms, and the electoral map for Republicans is so awful it means that while the House, thanks to gerrymandering, is probably safe for the GOP, the Senate is very likely to flip right back to the Democrats. If they waste those two years trying to shut down the government over immigration, this will make the Koch brothers cry in their caviar.

Photo by Giovanni Handal under Creative Commons license

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