If the Republican establishment is so panicked about Donald Trump — a wild, proto-fascist egomaniac with his finger on the button, in their telling — you’d think it would do the one thing that would almost certainly stop him: Surrender. By “surrender” I mean abandon their decades long dream of winning Latino votes through a magic pill called “comprehensive immigration reform” (known to its opponents as amnesty). After Romney’s 2012 defeat, conservatives like Charles Krauthammer argued that if they just caved to the Democrats on this one issue — immigration — they wouldn’t really have to change anything else. (“It requires but a single policy change ….”) In 2013, with Marco Rubio as their smiling pitch man, they tried desperately to sell out on immigration. They failed.
Today, Trump’s massive rallies can be interpreted as an expression of the historic populist undercurrent animating America’s white working class. Or they can be interpreted, with less sophistication, as Americans saying, as loudly as they can, “WE DON’T WANT YOUR F___ING ‘COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM.'” Either way, anger over elite “more immigration” plans is the molten core of the Trump eruption. Is there any doubt that if “comprehensive immigration reform” went away for good, Trumpism would wither? So why don’t Haley Barbour and Karl Rove call a big K Street meeting where they say, “Boys, we have to throw the damn yahoos this bone. We’re giving up on amnesty”?**
The GOP establishment does have some concerns other than bringing in foreign workers, doesn’t it? It has tax reducing schemes, and regulation-reducing plans, and entitlement-controlling schemes. It wants a more assertive, ‘muscular’ foreign policy. It wants to retain control of the Senate! It wants to gain control of the Supreme Court. These are all the goodies that a Trump nomination for the Presidency would threaten (and not necessarily only if he lost). Saving those goodies by abandoning the star-crossed immigration cause seems like the obvious choice. It’s Krauthammer in reverse — by simply not caving on this one issue on which they want to cave, professional Republicans can save the rest of their enterprise.
I’m actually a little baffled that they haven’t done this. Not even one of ’em. Maybe they still think it’s early, that a combination of SuperPAC attack ads and media-inflated embarrassments will destroy Trump in the next two months. There’s always time to cave on amnesty later. But how will the Karl Roves be in a better position after Trump has won New Hampshire and South Carolina? The time to cave is now, when ‘getting right with the base’ on immigration might promote a successful Rubio or Christie candidacy, before Trump begins to rack up delegates.
Obviously, the elite’s worried about losing Latino votes in the general election. But they can’t really be stampeded by Latino Decisions polls designed to panic GOPs into thinking that if they don’t immediately embrace the Gang of 8 they’ll never win more than 27% of Hispanics again, can they? To defuse the amnesty issue with the base, all that’s really required is moving from the Gang of 8’s “Amnesty First” position to the tough “Enforcement First” position of the Gang of 8’s most respectable foes (at NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies). That position still holds out the hope of legalization for current undocumenteds (that’s what comes ‘second’) even as it tramples on the dream of Latino activists that the border will never really be enforced (and that we’ll get an ongoing stream of future Latino undocumenteds). You’d think the prospect of getting more than Romney’s 27% of the Latino vote — if maybe less than George W. Bush’s mythical 44% — while moderating a future tide of mostly Democratic immigrants, might be accepted by Beltway strategists as a reasonable fallback position. But no!
I used to think the answer to the mystery was that it was all about Jeb — i.e., the push for amnesty was specifically designed to promote a Bush candidacy in 2016. Yet the Bush campaign is dying and the elite’s still clinging to amnesty. So that can’t be it.
It’s the money, then? So many consultants and lobbyists putting their kids through college by promoting the Chamber of Commerce/Fortune 500/Silicon Valley immigration agenda that they can’t afford to turn on their paymasters? But isn’t the political elite — at least one member of the political elite — supposed to have a strategic vision that transcends today’s personal economic concerns? Anyway, once “comprehensive” amnesty dies the K Streeters could immediately go into business selling their clients loopholes and guest-worker exemptions. Their children will not suffer.
Is the problem the mechanics of throwing amnesty overboard–e.g. how do you get Rubio to embrace Enforcement First (and he’s already close) if Christie and Kasich still push comprehensivism? But what’s the point of having a semi-shadowy Beltway elite if it can’t manipulate its pet presidential candidates? Anyway, whichever candidate ditches amnesty will win, and Kasich will lose.
The mystery remains. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that there’s one thing Rove & Co. care about more than what they say would happen to their nation with Trump as Commander-in Chief. That is the end of their Amnesty Fantasy.
** — In other words, I’m not talking about taking out some attack ads calling Trump a hypocrite on immigration (because one of his projects employs illegals). I’m talking about actually caving –switching to oppose Schumer/Rubio style “Amnesty First” amnesty (whether done all at once or “piecemeal,” whether it ends in citizenship or some other kind of legalization.). …