In his take on the devolution of comprehensive immigration reform this morning, Ezra Klein focuses on the fading Republican fear of retribution from Latino voters. He attributes that in part to fewer threats from Latino leaders and activists:
The simplest way to explain the politics of the bill right now is that, after the election, the Republican Party was scared of the Hispanic electorate, and so they wanted to act. But Republicans are no longer that scared of Hispanic voters, and so they no longer want to act. Unless the Hispanic community can change that, there won’t be an immigration bill.
Now I’d say it’s clear Republicans have been swayed by counter-arguments to the proposition that they need to support (or at least quietly encourage) comprehensive immigration reform as a matter of political survival. Many have seized upon (while distorting) Sean Trende’s “missing white voter” hypothesis (still more about that later today), and others have convinced themselves that whatever good will they derive from immigration reform (or whatever pain they avoid by letting the issue be “taken off the table”) is offset by the long-term benefits Democrats will obtain from new voters among those placed on the “path to citizenship.” And in any event, abstract theories about the national party notwithstanding, most House Republicans are not vulnerable in their own districts to Latino voters, and mainly fear being “primaried” as RINOs by opponents of immigration reform.
Still, Ezra has a point. The increasingly obvious failure of the quietly-love-them-into-submission strategy for immigration reform will and should encourage Latinos to express themselves more clearly about the stakes involved in this issue. It’s unlikely to have much impact on hard-core conservatives, but it could convince Democrats and the Republican minority that favors reform to keep up the pressure for eventual reform.