Has the GOP found its 2006 issue?

A mostly political Weblog.
March 28 2006 1:41 PM

Has the GOP Found Its 2006 Issue?

Hiding in plain sight.

Heads Up: California voter registration scandal bubbling up.  Kf hears through the blogvine that some 20% of new registrants in L.A. County aren't making it onto the rolls due to bureaucratic and computer snafus. The numbers aren't large (low five figures) but somebody will sue. ... And the name "Diebold" was mentioned. ... 10:37 A.M.

No Contest: Much is being made, in the press, the blogs, and the email I'm getting, of the split in the Republican party on immigration: there are pro-crackdown conservatives on the one hand, and rich Republican business backers who need immigrant labor on the other. I'm not sure this internal struggle is such a close thing, though, at least this year. Republicans facing the loss of Congress need to mobilize their base, not their lobbyists. They need voters, not money. That points in only one direction, no? Sometime before November, that should become obvious. ... 4:27 P.M.

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Reminder: Never serve John Kerry tomato-based products. 10:42 A.M.

Have the GOPs Found Their 2006 Issue? Republicans are deemed to be in deep trouble in the Congressional midterms--and searching desperately, without obvious success, for a hot-button issue (gay marriage? flag-burning?) that could mobilize conservative "base" voters.  But is it possible they've now found one hiding in plain sight--a tough anti-illegal immigration bill?

Immigration has several characteristics that suggest it's a good locomotive for GOP victory in November: 1) Voters say it's an important issue; 2) A majority wants some sort of border-control action; 3) The GOP base feels intensely about it; 4) Many Congressional Democrats are--by ideology or interest group pressure--locked in to a pro-immigrant, non-tough stance (or if they strike a tough pose it seems just that). In all these respects, immigration resembles welfare reform, a key hot-button base-mobilizing issue for Republicans in the 1994 midterms. ...

So why isn't this the CW** already? Short-term and long-term objections. Short term:  President Bush favors a relatively generous approach, proposing a "guest worker" program that would be available to illegals already here. Since Bush is his party's leader, isn't his position the GOP position? Long term: Republicans worry that if they angrily crack down on border enforcement--without adding provisions for guest workers or legalization of existing illegals, they'll lose the growing Latino vote for a generation (as California Republicans are said to have lost the state's Latino vote after Gov. Pete Wilson's anti-illegal Prop. 187 in 1994).  But there are answers to each objection.

Short term: These are the mid-term elections, remember--not the presidential. Are Republican Congressional candidates really incapable of getting out a message to their base that they are tough on illegals, even if Bush is not? One effective way to do that would be to, er, actually pass a tough enforcement-only bill!

Long term: As for losing the Latino vote, there may be method in the current mad GOP disarray. The method is to let the President set the general, generous tone of the party, while local GOP officeholders run as get-tough individuals. Precisely because Bush, not Congress, leads the party, what he says should have the greater impact on its long-term profile. By praising the illegal immigrant work ethic while taking a compromising, high-minded policy line he might at least avoid permanently alienating Latinos. Meanwhile, GOP House candidates wage local campaigns in which they identify with prevailing anti-illegal sentiment--getting themselves reelected while doing a minimum of damage to the party's national image.

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