Tea Party scores telling new win: RNC dumps immigration reform, once key policy priority

Reince Priebus once said comprehensive immigration reform was the GOP's salvation. The Tea Party changed his mind

By Simon Maloy
Published November 7, 2014 5:48PM (EST)
Marsha Blackburn, Louie Gohmert                        (AP/Chris Usher/Carolyn Kaster)
Marsha Blackburn, Louie Gohmert (AP/Chris Usher/Carolyn Kaster)

Two years ago, after the GOP took a harsh and (from their perspective) unexpected drubbing at the polls, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus declared that the GOP needed to change. Clearly unnerved by Mitt Romney’s abysmal share of the Hispanic vote, Priebus’ committee put together a series of recommendations for how the Republican Party could stave off long-term demographic decline, the most important being the enthusiastic pursuit of comprehensive immigration reform:

We are not a policy committee, but among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all.

Three days ago, the GOP enjoyed a sweeping and (from the perspectives of most observers) unexpectedly large victory at the polls. With significant electoral victory under the Republican Party’s belt, Priebus has reversed course and declared his previous analysis inoperative. Comprehensive immigration reform, Priebus now says, is not a priority. Per the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein, Priebus told reporters this morning that the focus should now be on border security:

“What I think [the president] has done is unified the country and the electorate around one big principle and that’s that we need to secure the border,” said Priebus. “And he has created a situation that I think may have not existed before… that has galvanized the country [to] a place where I don’t believe most people are interested in comprehensive immigration reform unless they are convinced that the border is secure.”

What a difference an election can make! Well, that’s not entirely fair; Priebus and the rest of the Republican establishment began backing away from comprehensive immigration reform months ago when it became clear that conservatives in the House wouldn’t allow any legislation to move forward, and that the GOP was well-situated to clean up in the midterms. Priebus has to blame Obama because he’s the chair of the RNC and that’s what the chair of the RNC does. But the real reason he’s backing away is because his own party is forcing him to.

Therein lies a pretty good counterargument to the idea that the Republican establishment wrested back control from the Tea Party. Priebus and the rest of the establishment laid out a path forward for the party centered around one big policy goal, and they’ve spent most of the time since quietly backing off their own recommendations to get themselves more in line with the conservatives in the House (and the base) who want border security and nothing else. And as Paul Waldman points out, chances for any sort of immigration legislation have actually dwindled with the midterm results, given that “in both the House and Senate, the incoming GOP caucus will be more conservative than they are right now.”

The hardline conservatives are running the show when it comes to immigration, and without any sort of manufactured crisis point to force the rest of the GOP to act, there’s no reason to think any sort of real reform will pass. That, combined with the fecklessness of the House leadership, offers yet more incentive for the White House to just go ahead and do what they can through executive action.

Reince Priebus can go on blaming Obama for comprehensive immigration reform’s failure to his heart’s content, but the party’s demographic troubles haven’t gone away. And going by his own post-2012 analysis, Priebus' is only making them worse.

Simon Maloy

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