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Ryan Campbell Headshot

Can the GOP Evolve With People Like Jan Brewer?

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Though she certainly isn't the only one, Jan Brewer is one of several people in the Republican Party who is still harshly anti-immigrant: she's currently defending a lawsuit against her executive order blocking DREAMers, the children of undocumented immigrants, from getting licenses. This is after she helped to embody the GOP's losing immigration strategy, signing SB 1070 and publicly embracing Romney early in his campaign. While the national wing of the Republican Party has accepted that it cannot continue to alienate Latinos and Asians, two groups heavily invested in a more open immigration policy, in the state legislatures it's business as usual. For them, the usual includes publicly stomping on Latinos, a group that recently helped hand them a stunning electoral defeat in the House, Senate and White House.

If you were to turn on the TV and watch the Sunday morning talk shows in the wake of the election, you would inevitably see national figures like Sen. John McCain in the Republican Party talking vaguely about how they need to appeal to Latinos. With the fiscal cliff less than a month away, all eyes are on the collective wallet of the nation. Working comparatively quietly behind the scenes are issues such as the STEM Act, Kris Kobach's unchanged rhetoric and Jan Brewer's legal defense of her executive order to block undocumented immigrants from receiving licenses as part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Lawyers suing Brewer say "Arizona's creation of its own immigration classification [to deny undocumented immigrants licenses] impermissibly intrudes on the federal government's exclusive authority to regulate immigration."

On the suit, Brewer contends that "The state is the one that licenses the people to be able to drive around the streets -- it's not the federal government -- and we don't license kids under 16, we don't license DUI drivers, and our laws are very clear and I took an oath to uphold that." Although Brewer may have a point that we don't license children or drunk drivers, that is because they are unfit as drivers; being undocumented doesn't make one unfit to drive. Whether this argument wins or not, one thing is for certain: Jan Brewer is the most selfish player on the GOP team. This suit has the potential to unleash a Supreme Court verdict at an inopportune time, like when the SB 1070 ruling dropped in Romney's lap like a bowl of scalding soup during the campaign, assuming that there isn't another big media blitz on immigration that instantly throws the lawsuit and lingering effects of SB 1070 into the spotlight.

Brewer's policies have made her a focal point of anti-immigration sentiment alongside Joe Arpaio and Kris Kobach, which raises the question: with these characters anchoring the GOP to a losing past, will the party be able to change direction on immigration enough that they will be able to win national elections again? Common sense is that the country is becoming more, not less, diverse every year, with this last election's coalition of Latino and Asian-American voters putting the exclamation point on that notion.

If immigration doesn't come up next media cycle after the 24-hour networks and Sunday morning talk shows are finished with Susan Rice and the Fiscal Cliff, it will still be coming up soon after. The remarks that Jan Brewer made on driver's licenses, comparing undocumented immigrants to drunks and children, will be remembered alongside her aggressive pushing of SB 1070 (both when she signed it into law, and when the Supreme Court was striking down half of it). With remarks like this, it will be more difficult for Republicans to go through the already-painful public rebranding process that any party which has just lost so badly must inevitably go through.