IT’S A TRAP: Obama delays executive action on immigration

There won’t be any executive action on immigration policy before the November elections, according to President Barack Obama. Nationally, the issue has looked like a loser for Democrats, so it seems like a pretty obvious move.  Delaying action protects Democrats from being saddled with yet another unpopular Obama policy.  But as one of the great military leaders of our time said, “It’s a trap!”

For Democrats running in tough states where independents can be persuaded (and weak Republicans can be persuaded to stay home) based on immigration issues, this move is exactly what it looks like. But it also gives GOP candidates a false gift: the ability to claim that the looming threat of mass amnesty of illegal immigrants looms over the nation. That’s not a bad issue – for now. But remember that in 2002 and 2004, protecting state-sponsored traditional marriage was a good issue for Republicans; by 2012 the issue had reversed. In addition to the light cover offered to 2014 Democrats, Obama’s immigration delay paves the way for future Democrats to point to 2014 GOP rhetoric as evidence of racism. All it would take is for one candidate to Mourdock up a debate by talking about “the Mexican menace at our border” or some such crap.  It could also work as a shorter-term micro-issue: Democrats could identify pro-immigration pockets of both parties and drum up the issue as an example of Congressional intransigence. It wouldn’t be a stretch with the data infrastructure that’s already in place.

The messaging on this issue, as with all issues, has to be nuanced; the do-nothing message cuts both ways. Immigration could be one more issue on which the President has chosen not to lead. And that opens the door for campaign-trail discussions about new solutions that use the best of Republican and Democrat ideas – and casts aside the worst ideas, like wholesale amnesty or the President’s refusal to compromise on anything. The real opportunity for Republicans on immigration is to re-orient public positioning on the issue for 2014 and beyond.

 

If nothing changes, everything will stay like this!

Today, Politico opines that immigration reform will give Democrats a big edge in future elections:

The immigration proposal pending in Congress would transform the nation’s political landscape for a generation or more — pumping as many as 11 million new Hispanic voters into the electorate a decade from now in ways that, if current trends hold, would produce an electoral bonanza for Democrats and cripple Republican prospects in many states they now win easily.

Even Politico admits that this type of projection is “speculative” given that the newly eligible voters wouldn’t be casting President ballots until 2020 or 2028.  It doesn’t keep them from speculating, though.

This sounds similar to the countless pundits on the right who have been wringing their hands for the last six months over the Great Question of What Went Wrong in 2012.  How, they ask desperately, are we ever to win again?  We don’t speak to minority groups!  We don’t use Big Data!  Our candidates are bad!  Our messages are out of touch!  Look at all the support for President Obama in 2012!

Republicans who feel bad about this should review the last several candidates for President produced by the Democratic party before they struck gold with Obama:

  • John Kerry, an aristocrat out of Massachusetts who couldn’t beat a vulnerable sitting President.
  • Al Gore.
  • Bill Clinton, who was likable enough to score a second term but not ideological enough to move the ball for liberalism.
  • Michael Dukakis.
  • Walter Mondale.
  • Jimmy Carter.
  • George McGovern, an unabashed liberal who was thoroughly crushed.
  • Hubert H. Humphrey.
  • Lyndon Johnson, whose most liberal policies didn’t come out until he one re-election on the coattails of John F. Kennedy’s legacy.
  • JFK, a charismatic and media-friendly candidate who was able to ignite the electorate and win wide popular support.

If you’re scoring at home, that’s 48 years between exciting Democratic candidates.  If you want to find another Democratic candidate who helped the party ideologically, you have to go back to Franklin Roosevelt.

You could make a similar list for Republicans, of course.  The point is, political environments are fleeting and not static.  In eight years, GOP messaging could be very different, and the voices delivering those messages will be different, too – while left-leaning activists may be quoting the Great and Powerful Barack Obama the way today’s conservatives wistfully remember Ronald Reagan.