At TNR, as part of a long rumination on Obama’s second-term options, Noam Scheiber offers a new twist on the immigration reform end-game. Like many other observers, he asserts that the GOP “has to have immigration reform,” and also assumes “Republican elites” know that and have the ultimate power to impose it on their Members of Congress. But unlike many who assume this is a no-brainer for Republicans, Scheiber does acknowledge House conservatives may be able to block enactment of immigration legislation before the 2014 midterms.
But after that, he says, Republican elites will be really frantic to pass an immigration bill:
[T]he party will only become more desperate to pass immigration reform in 2015 or 2016, when the low-turnout, demographically favorable midterms will be over, and Republicans have nothing to contemplate but the prospect of another presidential wipeout at the hands of alienated Latinos
Thus, Scheiber argues, Democrats should increase their leverage by avoiding an immigration compromise this time around, and then in exchange for giving Republicans the immigration bill they need prior to 2016, they’ll be able to extort something they really want, like a carbon tax.
Well, it’s certainly an interesting scenario, and one that has the virtue of taking seriously the very different odds of Republican electoral success in midterm and presidential cycles.
But at some point all those observers who assert or assume Republican obstruction of immigration reform disguises not only the hope that it is enacted, but a frantic need for its enactment, are going to have to come to grips with a strong counter-narrative. As I noted last week, conservatives are rapidly beginning to buy into the “missing white voter” hypothesis which makes the Latino vote, even in a presidential year, a minor consideration rather than an existential threat.
Taking the “missing white voter” meme seriously doesn’t necessarily mean accepting Sean Trende’s analysis of the numbers. But it does mean understanding how incredibly tempting it is (to use the phrase I’ve coined for other occasions, it’s a bottomless crack pipe) to conservatives who don’t want to change their ideology or make policy concessions to seek demographic salvation via a stronger appeal to white folks.
So I wouldn’t pocket an immigration bill in 2015 or 2016, much less the rather large bonus of a new deal producing a carbon tax.