THE BLOG

The GOP's Civil War on Immigration

07/11/2013 06:06 pm ET | Updated Sep 10, 2013
  • Ryan Campbell Editor at DRM Capitol Group, Media Manager @DRMAction

There is an absolute civil war within the Republican Party on the issue of immigration reform: going into the 2014 election season, this will be the last opportunity many Congressmen will have to make an impression that will not simply be shrugged off as campaigning by the electorate. The last high-profile debate, background checks for gun purchases, did not endear many legislators to the public. Meanwhile, the national embarrassment wing of the Republican Party, Congressmen like Louie "Terror Babies" Gohmert (R-TX) and media leaders like Laura Ingraham and Sarah Palin, are still charging full-steam ahead, making it difficult for moderate Republicans to operate. The interests of those who want to appeal to a nation are in direct conflict with those who want to permanently capture a smaller, much less rational, Glen Beck-esque audience who actually enjoyed the reality show that the 2012 primary turned into. This is the line that has become a schism in the conservative movement, and will only get uglier as we get closer to decision time.

"...so ill-informed I don't know where to begin" said Senator McCain (R-AZ) of Senator Fischer (R-NE) after she expressed her reservations on border security despite the Corker-Hoeven amendment. On the floor of the Senate last week, during the immigration debate, there were passions flaring on both sides. Ultimately, we were left with a bill that passed with amendments from professed anti-spending conservatives adding billions of dollars on what Sen. Leahy (D-VT) characterized as a "Haliburton Christmas list;" it's essentially the sort of horse trading that nobody really benefits from, but gives guys like John Cornyn (R-TX) no excuses to vote against the bill, so he looks pretty bad in front of his 38 percent Latino constituency when he has to stand on the floor and try to justify himself.

The infotainment sector of the right is the same, with guys like Sean Hannity for immigration (at least since it became politically necessary) and Laura Ingraham and Sarah Palin against: "In all my years of warning of GOP moderates, this Senate immigration deal is the worst thing they've ever done... it's not good for the country... to all the Republicans who supported this, know that you're writing your own obituary. I hope you realize you just participated in the political equivalent of a one night stand." With the sort of class one would expect of a Fox News pundit, Laura Ingraham summarized much of the irrational anger on the right on the immigration bill.

Nevermind that Ingraham does not have a leg to stand on with the CBO, Bloomberg Business and every other reputable organization showing a large net benefit for the average citizen: all they have left is that extremely controversial Heritage Foundation report. Laura Ingraham, like Sarah Palin and Herman Cain, will just keep being her angry, irrational self no matter how many times Stephen Colbert calls her a terrible writer with racial issues while she's on the show to push her book. For her, however, all she has to do is keep getting people who could have been on the Jerry Springer show to buy the same book written by her, Ann Coulter or some other partisan hack who does not deserve a show yet somehow made it on Fox News (I'm looking at you, Herman Cain).

Thrust into the middle of the collision of these two historical, cultural and social fronts between Laura Ingrahams and Sean Hannitys stands Joe Heck (R-Nev). Heck's district includes the suburbs south of Vegas, which are rich in Latino and Asian immigrants who work at the Vegas hotels and casinos and constitute a quarter of his district's voters. Perhaps this was the reason Heck has voiced support for immigration reform.

"Let's face it, we have a broken legal immigration system," Heck said at a town hall meeting. "No, we don't" a man from the crowd shouted back. "You're just not enforcing the law," said another, while Heck continued to push immigration reform. When he explained that he was the grandson of Italian immigrants and a member of the crowd shot back that they did not come here illegally, he said "I understand that. And that's because they didn't have to wait 15 years back in Italy [like immigrants today]."

Although Heck has said he would vote against the Senate bill if it were to come to the House, he pushes for immigration reform as a concept, and would be one clear target for organizers as someone who could be moved on the issue, or attacked and made an example of come election time if he were to break the other way.

In the end, Heck's dilemma is symbolic of the decision the GOP must make as a party, as well as representative of the personal choice that each Representative in a non-Latino district will have to make: play the short game and piss off Latinos, sacrifice the party and go against immigration reform, or plan long-term, suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in town halls occupied by angry white people afraid of change and go for reform. Either way, these next few weeks will define the GOP to Latino voters for the 2014 elections: they'll either be the guys that signed on, or the "Party of No."