The immigration reform battle has dominated the discussion policy circles over the last couple weeks and it provides an interesting look into what may be the future of the Republican Party. Of all of the items on President Obama’s 2nd term agenda, including gun control reform, climate change legislation, more taxes, and a higher minimum wage, an immigration overhaul probably has the best chance of gaining bipartisan support.
The Republican establishment, for the most part, has embraced the idea of bipartisan immigration reform that includes both higher security and a path for amnesty. Many see this as a cold and cynical calculation on their parts to earn more of the Latino vote after losing so much of it in the recent presidential election. This is likely to be true, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The Republican Party is shrinking. Simple truths such as the fact that less people are bringing their religion into politics, the voting population is becoming more diverse, and even that less people are getting married are signs that if the parties stick to their current platforms, the Democrats are going to win more and more elections. In fact, Democrats have already won 5 of the last 6 Presidential popular votes.
Even though the establishment recognizes this and is trying to react, the extreme wing of the Republican Party, which has arguably overshadowed the establishment since Obama’s election, is vehemently opposed to any form of amnesty and they have shown over the past couple years that they don’t believe in compromise. While I call them “extreme,” they make up a big enough chunk of the Party that they can’t be ignored.
This extreme wing is made up of dedicated conservatives, the kind that vote in primaries, volunteer for candidates, and spend what they can to fund campaigns. They have strong, ideologically-influenced opinions and they want candidates who share those opinions. They have a strong presence in Congress, especially in the House, and they won’t vote for something that they don’t 100% support (AKA anything that includes amnesty).
Immigration is a microcosm of the dilemma that the Republican Party faces. They need to extend their umbrella if they hope to win a future Presidential election and maintain their grasp on Congress slip, but only part of the party sees the need to do this. Establishment candidates can vote for something like an Immigration Reform bill that includes amnesty, but it means that a far-right primary challenger will have an even stronger chance of beating them come next election.
Although it isn't happening in a rapid fashion, the Republican Party is splitting and Immigration Reform is maybe the best example of where the two sides stand. Over time, this extreme wing of the Party is either going to have to move left or be left behind and replaced by some other group of voters.