February 3, 2014

ROSS DOUTHAT: The GOP’s Immigration Delusion.

The debate over immigration reform, rekindled last week by House Republican leaders, bears a superficial resemblance to last fall’s debate over the government shutdown.

Again, you have establishment Republicans transparently eager to cut a deal with the White House and a populist wing that doesn’t want to let them do it. Again, you have Republican business groups and donors wringing their hands over the intransigence of the base, while talk-radio hosts and right-wing bloggers warn against an imminent inside-the-Beltway sellout. Again, you have a bill that could pass the House tomorrow — but only if John Boehner was willing to live with having mostly Democrats voting for it.

Except there’s one big difference: This time, the populists are right.

They’re right about the policy, which remains a mess in every new compromise that’s floated — offering “solutions” that are unlikely to be permanent, enforcement provisions that probably won’t take effect, and favoring special interests, right and left, over the interests of the citizenry at large. . . .

So immigration policy is problematic on the merits — and then it’s politically problematic for Republicans as well. Immigration ranks 16th on the public’s list of priorities, according to the latest Pew numbers, so it’s difficult to see how making this the signature example of a new, solutions-oriented G.O.P. is going to help the party in the near term. Whereas it’s much easier to see how it helps the Democrats: if a bill passes, it will do so with heavy Democratic support, hand President Obama a policy victory at a time when he looks like a lame duck, and demoralize the right along the way.

But the New Oligarchs want it, and they’re big donors.

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