‘Why now?’ for immigration reform

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Yesterday, Republican House Leadership released a “statement of principles” on immigration reform that promptly (re)ignited a civil war on the right.

And the main question being asked is: “Why now?” As Allahpundit observes:

“Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics started tweeting in total mystification after the statement was released as to why the GOP would be pushing amnesty now, of all moments. If they were dead set on doing this before the midterms, he reasoned, why not do it last year, to give conservative anger more time to cool before the big vote? Failing that, why not wait until next year, after the midterms, since no one expects the Latino vote to be decisive this fall? I have no answers to the first question but you know my answer to the second. I think Boehner’s afraid that if they wait another year, until the GOP holds the Senate as well, conservative expectations for a ‘tough’ Republican-written law will be so high that the backlash when they fail to come through will be even more bitter than it’ll be if they do it this year. In fact, as another Twitter buddy speculated, it may be that Boehner expects so many more tea partiers in the House and Senate next year that he feels he has to act now, before they’re seated. If he waits, tea partiers might be strong enough in 2015 to block the sort of bill that his friends in the Chamber of Commerce want written.”

This reading of Boehner’s calculus sounds about right, but Allahpundit’s last sentence implies that Boehner’s motives are less than pure, and I think that’s a less than generous reading.

It very well could be that Boehner believes immigration reform is actually good policy — and that Republicans simply must embrace it if they are to stay relevant in the future.

Additionally, he may believe that Republicans are poised to do well in the midterm elections, no matter what. And he may also realize that, if and when Republicans “win” the midterms, the argument for tackling this issue will be an even harder sell.

Anti-immigration reform forces would then say: “Why should we do immigration reform now? I mean, the American public just rejected the Democrats’ agenda. We had a great 2014 election. Why would we want to sell out our base when we’re winning?”

Admit it. This would actually be the predictable response to doing well in the midterms. This is essentially a catch-22. It’s also a pattern. Opponents of immigration reform have tended to rhetorically move the goal posts — always claiming they support immigration reform in theory — but only if the people advocating for it would just do one small thing to fix it.

When the Senate bill was being pushed, for example, the criticism was that  it was a comprehensive bill — that it was more than 1,000 pages long. Far better, they said, to break it up into smaller pieces. Anyone think they would be okay with a series of smaller bills today?

Another criticism was that we needed to secure the border first. Anyone think they’d go for a path to citizenship even after we passed a tough border bill?

The ultimate goal, it seems, isn’t to improve the policy, but to use any reasonable-sounding excuse available to postpone or kill it. At the end of the day, you may believe immigration reform is good or bad on the merits — and that’s okay. There are legitimate arguments on both sides. But the notion that the timing just isn’t right — that you’d be for it next year — or that Boehner and his allies have purely evil motives and are solely trying to do the bidding of the Chamber of Commerce — is sophistry.

It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Republicans do so well in the midterm elections that they conclude they don’t have any problems and that they can just keep on doing what they’ve been doing. That, of course, would likely sow the seeds for yet another General Election loss — where the turnout is dramatically different.

If you subscribe to the theory that there are fundamental demographic challenges the GOP must sooner or later address, then it’s better not to postpone this. There really is no good time to eat your vegetables.