After the Republicans recently went against roughly 86 percent of American public opinion on background checks for gun purchases, they now need to redeem themselves in the eyes of their voters. With little time left before everyone up for election in 2014 goes into full-out campaign mode, immigration will likely be the last chance members of Congress have to make a strong impression on voters that will last them until the election. With the strong emphasis placed on Latino issues in U.S. politics after the results of the last election and Republicans still cowering at the prospect of being primaried, it's hard to tell how this round of immigration debates will end.
Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) is one of the prime examples of politics on background checks gone wrong. As a New England Republican whose state was 9 out of 10 in favor of checks, she took a big risk voting against them. She then immediately saw her approval rate go from 48-35 to 44-46, placing her approval rating below her disapproval rating, harming her career badly enough that this will be an issue in 2016 when she is up for re-election. Voting alongside Ayotte were Democrat Senators like Max Baucus (D-Mont). Baucus took such a hit over his vote, he abruptly decided not to run again in 2014 (perhaps to take a job with the NRA).
On the other side of the background check debate were a few brave Republicans like John McCain (R-AZ), who complimented and thanked senators like Patrick Toomey (R-PA) for taking aggressive stances in support of gun control. Since then, while Ayotte goes into damage control mode that can last until the next gun debate, Toomey's approval rate has risen despite Pennsylvania having a strong gun culture.
On immigration, we see many of the same dynamics: an American public that is in favor of immigration reform, nearly all Democrats are behind it, many Republicans are willing to vote against the GOP's traditional stances (i.e. "self-deportation") and other Republicans (and a few Democrats) are willing to filibuster, add amendments to try to kill the bill and do anything they can to slow this entire process down.
Republicans have been wandering the wilderness for the past six months, unsuccessfully trying to rebrand themselves as they became the Party of No on background checks. Immigration now comes to them as their first opportunity not only for redemption from the public self-flagellation they suffered over background checks, but also the rebranding they've sorely needed since shedding Romney.
To say that Romney was beaten amongst non-white voters would be an understatement: Obama took 93 percent of the black vote, 71 percent of the Latino vote and 73 percent of the Asian vote, three communities that will only grow in voters in time. This epic spanking in their last election by Latino and Asian voters, two communities very intimately tied to the immigration debate, was largely due to the immigration debate not only being centered around bad policy for Republicans, but also involving abusive language in the rhetoric; they did everything but tell Latino voters they were going to catapult their grandmothers over an electrified border fence.
Without making serious concessions to those groups they insulted, in this new era of coalition politics that defeated Mitt Romney's nearly all-white, Mad Men vote, Republicans know they don't have a chance in national elections.
While 2016 is still a long way off, Republicans know that, if they tank immigration reform yet again, this will be an issue in the next presidential election that will cost them large portions of key demographics. If they cannot address their brand issues which have remained since the 2012 election while simultaneously winning Latinos and Asians away from Democrats, although it's an off year election without Obama drawing big numbers in 2014, they shouldn't expect results any better than they had in 2012 when they had fewer seats vulnerable, an unpopular Democratic party and billionaires throwing money around like it was nothing.