On Wednesday, we learned two things.
In 2014, the undocumented immigration population reached its lowest point since 2003.
In 2015, the global temperature was at its highest point in recorded history.
So what are Republicans talking about more? Immigration, of course.
You can understand why they won’t talk more about global warming. The conservative base doesn’t believe it’s real and no scientific data or pattern of extreme weather is going to convince them.
Immigration is more of a head-scratcher. Throughout history, around the world, native populations have reacted awfully to immigrant influxes. But there simply isn’t an influx of illegal immigration going on. Why does the obsession on the right persist?
The easy answer is bigotry. In fact, that is the only explanation for Republican voters blaming a myriad of social problems on a rise in immigration that doesn’t exist.
But it doesn’t quite explain why Republican candidates are so focused on the issue.
Consider that in a December ABC/Washington Post poll, when Republicans were asked what was their “single most important issue in your choice for president” only a mere eight percent named immigration.
And yet this tiny tip of the Republican tail is wagging the party dog.
Granted, the issue of terrorism – the number one issue among Republicans at 39 percent – has been conflated with immigration after the San Bernardino attack. But candidates like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz were pushing immigration hot buttons before San Bernardino.
The GOP leadership has long understood that immigration reform is a political necessity. The official RNC “autopsy” of the 2012 election supported “comprehensive immigration reform” because, “If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only.” Even Sean Hannity said four years ago that he supported a “pathway to citizenship … Because, you know what, it’s got to be resolved.”
But Republicans were too fearful of the anti-immigrant elements in their base, too afraid to grapple with the divisions that would arise. The result is that the issue is not resolved and it continues to bedevil the party. The most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that 42 percent of voters, including 45 percent of Latinos, have a less favorable view of the GOP because of the primary race.
Fear of the nativist right helped derail Gov. Scott Walker’s brief candidacy, as his epic flip-flopping on immigration, designed to pander to the bigots, sullied his reputation for consistency. And now it’s Sen. Marco Rubio who is being pounded by both Sen. Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush allies for his chronic vacillation and absent leadership on the issue.
All of this could have been avoided if Republicans did the responsible thing and stepped up to solve the issue in 2013. It would have been a distant memory by now. Instead, they are tied up in knots over a non-problem.