What we're seeing from Republicans on immigration so far this Congress is kind of like Groundhog Day, Memento, and a Bush State of the Union Address all rolled into one. Call it cyclical delusion.
GOP strategists keep talking about how the Party needs to make nice with Hispanic voters, but Republicans just can't seem to resist reaching for that trusty "Scapegoat the Immigrants" playbook, and thinking that it will work this time. At this rate, Republican lawmakers are set to turn every single piece of legislation into a nasty debate about immigration.
Key Democrats are taking notice, and providing some advice for their friends across the aisle. According to Senator Harry Reid (D - NV), Republicans need to:
"Get off this illegal immigrant stuff."
Earlier this week, Republicans tried to block health care for kids ( on the grounds that legal immigrant children would qualify), and now they are trying to delay passage of the economic stimulus package because of immigration issues. Reid says the bill has nothing to do with anything illegal -- and that it creates jobs for people in this country lawfully.
If this scenario sounds hopelessly familiar, it's because we've been through it before.
Just last January, Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader Boehner had to issue a joint statement debunking the myth that the 2008 stimulus bill would somehow get funneled to unauthorized immigrants. According to the release:
In fact, the bill includes language similar to the provisions included in the 2001 and 2003 tax relief bills to prevent illegal immigrants from receiving any benefits.
The anti-immigration wing of the GOP, with its single-minded, extreme immigration focus, may block progress on crucial issues in the short term, but it will come at the price of getting bulldozed by a new political reality.
According to Simon Rosenberg of NDN:
The right is using the same old playbook it has been using for decades, but the game has changed. If they continue applying their anachronistic 'Southern Strategy' brand of racial politics in the new much more tolerant age of Obama, they run the risk of being a minority party for decades to come.
The current Republican approach shows clear amnesia about the November 2008 elections, when the GOP got trounced, Latino voters turned in droves, and the anti-immigration wedge strategy failed so spectacularly. But even the current contest for RNC Chairman, with it's "Star Spanglish Banner" nonsense, is indicative of a larger intra-Republican battle for the future of the Party.
On the one hand, you have the GOP equivalent of Groundhog Day. A Party controlled by its hard-line fringe who rewrite election history to fit their anti-immigration worldview. This strategy without a memory prescribes an even harsher immigration platform as the key to Republican electoral success. Let's call this "The Shrinking Party Strategy."
On the other side waits the promise of a more inclusive Party that learns the lessons from 2008. A Party that reaches out to Latino voters and broader swaths of the electorate with a sensible immigration policy. A Party that finally throws that tired, old "Scapegoat the Immigrants" playbook into the dustbin of history where it belongs.
Let's call this approach the "Survival Strategy."