The immigration reform proposal winding its way through the Senate is tearing the Republican Party to pieces. Poor Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., once the golden boy of the Tea Party and the conservative movement, is being treated like a guy who wants to leave a gang but must submit to a group beating first.
Attention will soon shift to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. House conservatives are poised to block out the sun with arrows aimed at him if he moves the bill without a majority of GOP support.
Meantime, Democrats have managed to keep nearly everyone in line. The most vocal critic on the left has been Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who plausibly argues that the bill will disproportionately hurt the unskilled and under-educated poor.
One reason the Democrats are having an easier time is that their stakeholders can cut deals and the constituencies will go along. Organized labor will get its carve-outs from the Democrats, as will business groups eager to work on a bipartisan basis.
Contrary to popular perception, the GOP is the far more populist and grass-roots party these days, and the troops are not in a mood to follow orders.
Democrats are usually the ones decrying the pernicious global trends hampering prosperity for the working poor and middle class. And yet, their biggest priority is a bill that will accelerate those trends.
Liberal wonks raced to defend the bill on the wage issue by noting that average wages wouldn’t necessarily go down for existing workers. (If 10 people make $100 a day, and you add an 11th who makes $50 a day, the average goes down even if everyone’s wages don’t.) But arguing about how much wages will or won’t go down is a far cry from claiming wages will go up.
Polling shows that there’s a huge amount of consensus about what to do on immigration. If people here illegally meet strict requirements — pay back taxes, a fine, etc. — the the support for a path to citizenship is high, even among Republicans. Without those requirements, it plummets.
The same goes for border security. Convince people that this is a one-time thing and not a replay of the amnesty under Ronald Reagan, and most conservatives are eager to put this issue behind us.
The hitch is that the right is just not in a trusting mood. They feel, with ample justification, that Washington, including the GOP, has been betraying them for too long. I can understand that completely. What baffles me is why rank-and-file Democrats don’t feel the same way.
Jonah Goldberg is the author of “The Tyranny of Clichés,” now on sale in paperback. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or via Twitter @JonahNRO.