The GOP’s tussle
June 29, 2013
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.
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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.
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