Two months ago, Republican congresswoman Renee Ellmers went on Laura Ingraham’s national right-wing radio show, forcefully defended her position on immigration reform, and told the host, “Why are you being so small-minded about this? … I’m not going to take an ignorant position, as you have … You need to get your facts straight.”
This tells us two things.
1. Republicans skittish about angering the right-wing over immigration can relax.
Ellmers dared to offend a prominent conservative media figure, while running in a solidly Republican congressional district that Mitt Romney won by 16 points and McCain won by 12. Yet the anti-immigrant Tea Party uprising never materialized.
If she can glide through a Republican primary, other Republicans have little to fear in a general election after voting for immigration reform.
2. Speaker John Boehner’s strategy is paying off.
As I wrote last month of Boehner’s seemingly contradictory statements on immigration reform, “Sometimes he’s draws a far right line to keep his ranks unified and see how much he can eventually get. Sometimes he throws an elbow to some on his side of aisle, to weaken their leverage and give other Republicans confidence they can survive without kissing Heritage’s ring. He zigs and zags to keep everyone off balance, dampening the threat of a party split while also ensuring he doesn’t have to give away the store to the Democrats in any final deal.”
This strategy has paid off in the primary season. Not only did Ellmers avoid any significant backlash, but hers is the only Republican primary race where immigration became the flashpoint.
Boehner’s two-stepping has successfully kept the immigration issue alive in Washington, and kept it dormant on the hustings, avoiding a risky public intra-party rift.
Now, as the heart of the primary season ends next month, Boehner will have a much freer hand with which to deal.