The Congressional GOP’s unhealthy obsession with President Obama’s use of his presidential powers has driven them into a strategic black hole, with very high, long-term costs for the party and future candidates. Speaker John Boehner’s House of Representatives has voted to overturn all of Obama’s executive actions on immigration – putting millions of children, women and men at risk for deportation.
The party of “family values” expressed its will in the House that immigrant families be separated, homes broken up and communities devastated. The fact that some 70 percent of those people affected are Hispanic gives this action the added onus of targeting the fastest growing American ethnic group.
This vote will be a permanent reminder that less than two weeks into the GOP’s control of Congress, the party united in favor of deporting the maximum number of people – including children.
From a strategic standpoint, therefore, the GOP’s latest aggression against immigrants only makes sense if they have already abandoned all hope of winning the 2016 presidential election. While some Republican strategists are counseling abandoning the Latino vote in favor of increasing the older white vote, their strategy is bereft of mathematical calculus and empirical anchors.
Conservative writer Peter Wehner noted in a data-rich article for Commentary magazine, “the [demographic] challenges facing the Republican Party, at least at the presidential level, are significant and fairly fundamental.”
As Senator John McCain and former Governor Mitt Romney clearly demonstrated, Republicans cannot win national elections without reaching a significant threshold support from Latino voters. Neither McCain nor Romney were able to pull it off – and Obama, who won about 71 percent of the Hispanic vote is the first president since Dwight Eisenhower to win back to back elections with more than 51 percent of the total vote.
Also not coincidentally, McCain and Romney both assumed an anti-immigration, pro-deportation stance in their campaigns. Romney’s share of the Hispanic vote was the lowest since Senator Bob Dole garnered a tiny slice in 1996.
Boehner’s attempt to disguise this mass deportation vote as some sort of strike against Obama’s supposedly unlawful use of executive powers will not work. To the extent that Latinos need another reminder that the GOP is intrinsically antagonistic to Hispanics, this vote will be a permanent reminder that less than two weeks into the GOP’s control of Congress, the party united in favor of deporting the maximum number of people – including children.
Also not likely to be soon forgotten is the fact that this anti-immigrant vote serves no practical purpose. It will never become law. If a Democratic filibuster doesn’t stop it in the Senate, it is guaranteed to be vetoed by the president.
So why open the new Republican-controlled Congress with a vote that will be a large, smelly albatross over the Republican Party in 2016? One can only surmise that Boehner and his leadership team have made the calculus that losing the Latino vote for generations is acceptable to maintain the GOP’s House majority. Somehow – perhaps because of the gerrymandering of districts in 2010 by Republican-controlled legislatures, a process that has created a locked-in advantage for the GOP in the House in spite of not representing a true democratic majority – Boehner thinks that depending on principally older, white voters is a viable strategy to win elections.
After the 2012 election, when Romney’s campaign crashed and burned on the shoals of a massive repudiation by Latino voters, GOP Chairman Reince Priebus called for a new approach. No longer hostile to Latinos, the party would look to support some version of immigration reform and stave off what could be a permanent absence from the White House.
Of course we know that this “re-branding” of the Republican Party never occurred. Quite the opposite happened, in fact. As the takeover of the GOP by increasingly radical Tea Party Republicans has advanced unabated, uber-conservative John Boehner has been accused of being the worst political creature ever imagined – a moderate. For ideologues who relate to politics like the faithful connect with religion, any deviation from right-wing orthodoxy is political apostasy.
In the Middle Ages apostates were punished by crucifixion. In 2015, the punishment is less gruesome: Tea Party primaries. Nevertheless, even center-right Republicans have been pushed into supporting a nonsensical strategy to castigate immigrants or face political crucifixion at the hands of 21st-century Torquemadas.
Of course political blindness is neither new nor partisan. There was a time when factions of the Democratic Party supported some form of denuclearization of America even as the country faced the mortal threat of global Communism. This was the time, as well, when Democrats lost all but one national election between 1968 and 1988.
The American electorate rejects extremists. Now Republicans will re-learn that essential lesson at the hands of a highly motivated Latino electorate, quite tired of being the target of Republican attacks.