Kausfiles Midterm Rooting Scorecard

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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The Bias Matrix: What does kausfiles want? It’s complicated! Before a modern political writer can slant his coverage practice explanatory journalism determine what readers need to know, he first has to figure out whom he wants to win. That’s not always as easy as it sounds, especially if you are a blogger whose major issue** (control of our borders to help create a tight labor market) does not break down cleanly along party lines. Confronting the array of possible outcomes from the 2014 midterms, I can see two semi-contradictory imperatives:

1. I want supporters of an ‘Amnesty First’*** immigration solution (e.g., the “Gang of 8” bill the Senate passed) punished. You can’t expect that the MSM will interpret the election results as a blow to Amnesty First proposals if there’s any other possible spin. But you can reasonably expect politicians, in the privacy of their conference rooms, to see in the results a deadly warning,  the way Democrats interpreted the 1994 and 2000 election results as a deadly warning about gun control: ‘Embrace of this  elite initiative may endanger your political career.’

2. I want Democrats to retain Senate control. Sorry! Too many Republicans have now boasted that when they win the Senate majority they’ll be able to move on “immigration reform.” Jeb Bush said it. [Again.] Boehner said it. Jeb Hensarling said it. Rand Paul said it. Raul Labrador says it. Cornyn suggests it. McCarthy says he’s open to it. At some point you start taking these people at their word. The final straw for me was a C-SPAN video of House Judiciary chairman Bob Goodlatte, responding to a (smart) question from Politico‘s Lauren French about why he would trust President Obama to enforce an immigration bill from a GOP-run Senate any more than a bill from today’s Democrat-run Senate. All of a sudden the issue of “trust” melts away when it’s Goodlatte’s bills that might get passed. A Republican Senate would offer a “fresh start,” he says, for a three-part strategy that seems to end in amnesty. Yikes.

The unfortunate truth is the GOP leadership — pushed by donors, reporters and strategists — will be very tempted to move an immigration bill if they think they can make it their Republican-branded bill, not Harry Reid’s or Obama’s, while presenting themselves as noble problem-solvers.  They’re likely to fail in this effort anyway — Ramesh Ponnuru is right about that.  But if the chances of amnesty are only 40% with McConnell in power, instead of 10% under Reid — well, why take the extra risk? ****

Which puts me in the uncomfortable position of rooting for my own party. Reid and two more years of near-certain deadlock on this issue look mighty appealing. That requires Dems to lose a net of no more than 5 seats. (If Republicans get 6, they take the Senate.)

You might think it impossible to reconcile these two imperatives. It’s not easy — if all Dems who voted for the Senate’s “Gang of 8” amnesty bill lose, Dems can’t conceivably retain control. But it’s still barely possible for the midterms to achieve both goals. Here’s how (and remember this is a wish list within the range of possible outcomes ***** — not what is likely to occur):

A. There are two solid GOP pickups baked in the cake: West Virginia and Montana.

B. There are two Republicans in GOP-pickup states whose victory would dramatically boost the anti-amnesty cause:

Arkansas, where Tom Cotton has made immigration a consistent attack theme against Mark Pryor, who ( like every Senate Dem) voted for the Gang of 8. Cotton explicitly makes the argument that low-skilled immigration lowers wages. “It is basically supply and demand.”

New Hampshire, where incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen is under similar early-and-often anti-amnesty attack from Scott Brown. Shaheen is a popular ex-governor with a sensible, moderate image. Brown doesn’t have quite as strong a record on immigration as you might expect, plus he’s a carpetbagger and a relative longshot — compared to, say, Cotton. It doesn’t matter. If a popular ex-governor with a moderate image can get beaten by a longshot carpetbagger because she voted for “comprehensive” reform, that sends an even clearer message about the toxicity of “comprehensive” reform, doesn’t it? I just sent a contribution to Brown, which you can do here.

That’s 4 GOP pickups so far. They can afford to pick up only one more if they’re going to fail to win the Senate — though if they lose a seat they now hold (e.g. Georgia, Kansas, or Kentucky) they could pick up two more and still not gain control. This, it turns out, is the key to a midterm fantasy outcome.

C. What if  those Republican Senate candidates who are verifiably wussy on immigration lose? That means:

Rounds gets beaten in South Dakota. Last year, Rounds signed onto an establishment of-course-we-must-have-comprehensive reform statement, and he’s enmeshed in a scandal involving the EB-5 green-cards-for-investors program. No great loss.

Tillis loses in North Carolina: Tillis fought the E-Verify program (a crucial computerized check of new employees’ immigration status) when he ran the state legislature. Lately, desperate to catch a GOP wave, he’s been making noises about  the “need to seal the border.” Too late. Tillis’ loss would send a message to the pro-amnesty GOP bigshots (i.e. Rove) who pushed for him in the primary.

A Rounds loss is a Dem pickup. That would mean GOPs can gain a net of two in the remaining contests without winning Senate control.  [Correction: Error in first published draft.  The South Dakota seat is currently held by a Democrat.  A Rounds loss would maintain that status quo. ]

D. Any acceptable Dem pickups? I don’t think so:

In  Georgia, Democrat Michelle Nunn is the annoyingly confident candidate of bipartisan commissionism on the issue. David Perdue’s ads attack her for supporting “amnesty,” in strong rhetorical terms. (“Once and for all, forget about amnesty.”) Is this deceptive — is Perdue really just doing the minimum necessary to appear to be opposing amnesty while leaving himself room for embracing it later? Could be. The latest state of the art fake-anti-amnesty position — call it  RoveCon2 — involves a) opposing something you call “amnesty” and b) vowing to “secure the border first.” It’s usually hard to tell whether this is merely ‘boob bait’ or whether the candidate is serious. ****** Much depends on what “first” means. Does it mean actually putting in place E-verify, a fence, a visa tracker and waiting until they survive court challenge? Or does it mean passing a border security bill on Tuesday and an amnesty bill on Thursday? Perdue’s ad says “Actually secure our borders.” I assume he’s faking, but it’s a strong fake formulation. If it works it will send a message.

In Kansas, Pat Roberts has a clear record and voted against the Gang of 8 bill, while his opponent Greg Orman champions it with the self-satisfaction only a No Labels candidate could muster.

In Kentucky, supporters of Mitch McConnell — the would-be majority leader — have attacked his opponent on amnesty, and she’s attacked right back, throwing McConnell’s 1986 vote for Reagan’s amnesty in his face. It would be deliciously educational if McConnell lost his seat over that ancient vote. But the causality is apt to be muddled. And, just in case Republicans do win a majority, McConnell seems less dangerous a leader than some of the alternatives. At least he is hard to read — unlike, say, John Cornyn, who clearly wants a deal.

 E. Pick two one bonus GOP victory from the menu … Unless you want to see the Republicans try to prove they can govern (a terrifying prospect), that leaves a choice of  two (2) and only two one and only one more GOP pickup from the following menu of possibilities:

— Bill Cassidy, running against incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu in Lousiana.  Cassidy doesn’t have much of an anti-amnesty record, but has hit Landrieu forcefully on the issue.  She defends her pro-Gang vote.

— Dan Sullivan, running against Dem Mark Begich in Alaska. Similar to Louisiana — Begich embraces his Gang of 8 vote — except Sullivan’s attacks are a bit weaker. In the primary, he refused to sign the strict “FAIR” pledge on immigration (though I don’t think I’d sign the FAIR pledge either). Sullivan focuses on Obama’s promised executive amnesty rather than Begich’s vote for the Gang of 8 legislative amnesty — and basically doesn’t say anything in his off-the-shelf Secure-Border-First/Deal Later pitch that would preclude voting for the Gang bill if it was broken into pieces.

—  Joni Ernst in Iowa:  Ernst has maybe the weakest version of a Minimum Anti-Amnesty position. She condemns executive but not legislative amnesty and adds “I do support bringing a lot of these illegal immigrants forward” in a way that suggests she’s itching to support a legalization deal. Her Democratic opponent, Bruce Braley, didn’t vote for the Senate bill (he’s a House member)  but endorses it.

— Cory Gardner in Colorado is triumphantly flexible on the issue. Byron York suggests he’s pioneering a viable GOP alternative to the Senate’s approach. I don’t quite see it (though I think there is a magic bullet formula). Gardner’s “Border First” spiel goes like this: “Once we address those questions of security and enforcement, then we can have the conversation about what to do with those 11 million undocumented.” So we need merely to “address” the security issue before it’s off to the legalization races? On legalization, Gardner occasionally declares he’s for “earned status” for illegals, code for an amnesty that stops short of citizenship. He throws in support for a guest worker plan, which would lower wages as surely as illegal immigration — though he seems to sincerely support E-Verify and a visa tracking system.  If Gardner wins it will — wrongly or rightly — be widely interpreted as proof of the reward awaiting Republicans if they try to please Latinos by embracing some form of amnesty while finessing the GOP base. Maybe if he wins while still getting clobbered among Latinos …

I pick Casssidy and Sullivan, at least this week.

P.S.  I admit the whole premise of this column could be wrong  — maybe there is just no way to sufficiently punish immigration reformers that won’t also give the GOP a majority, so we might as well root for a total comprehensivist electoral bloodbath, with all vulnerable candidates who support the Gang of 8 defenestrated.

But the fantasy scenario sketched above only spares two three of the Senators who’d lose in that bloodbath: Udall, Braley, and Begich. Is beating them so crucial? A Udall loss would, as noted, be celebrated by GOP strategists as an argument for vague Gardneresque legalization plans. Not an unalloyed blessing. Begich’s opponent, Sullivan, is no anti-amnesty champion And do you really want to watch Joni Ernst’s rapid Kelly Ayotte-like slide toward Beltway-approved bipartisan “compromise”? I don’t.

Shorter kf: Is foregoing the scalps of Udall, Begich and Braley — while still beating Pryor, Shaheen, Nunn, Orman, Grimes, and Landrieu — riskier than giving pro-amnesty lobbyists Goodlatte’s “clean slate” of a GOP-run senate to work with? Kausfiles says no! Your mileage may vary.


** — Is Obama going to, say, reverse the trend to income inequality in his final two years? No. (Not even with “Promise Zones.”) Might he make permanent changes in immigration that would remove our best hope (aside from a boom) of boosting wages at the bottom of the income scale? Yes.

*** — Amnesty First = plans that would legalize current illegals before actually implementing measures (e.g. an E-Verify system, a fence, a visa tracker) that would prevent future flows of illegals.

**** — The counterargument is this: If Republicans fail to take the Senate in the relatively friendly terrain of the 2014 midterms, the GOP Establishment will be in a vocal panic, feverishly demanding the only solution they’ve thought of: appealing to Hispanics with amnesty. ‘If we couldn’t win in 2014, my God we’ll get killed in 2016,’ etc.  That will be a hard case to make, though, when 1) there weren’t that many Hispanics in the 2014 electorate, except in Colorado. Obviously the GOP’s problems would go deeper than demographics; when 2) the GOP’s leaders intentionally passed up a chance to nationalize the race around Obama’s executive amnesty; and if 3) the candidate’s who did the losing for Republicans were immigration wusses (e.g. Tillis, Gardner) while candidates who were relatively strong on the issue (e.g. Cotton) won.

***** — E.g., while it would be good to see Terri Lynn Land win in Michigan, there is roughly the same chance of that happening as catching Ebola from Ron Klain.

****** —  RoveCon1 would be ‘fix our broken immigration system/de facto amnesty/back taxes/bipartisan/business and labor,’ etc.  That does not seem to be cutting it for Republicans at election time.  Michelle Nunn is stuck in RoveCon1, however.

Mickey Kaus