While Republicans are caught up in a very public civil war between the Karl Rove Establishment and the Tea Party base, some leaders are quietly trying to move the party away from hardline positions on an issue Democrats have owned: immigration reform.
Senator Marco Rubio, the brightest star in the Republican firmament, joined five other Democratic and Republican senators in a bipartisan effort to craft a bill that would fix the broken immigration system.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour joined Democrats Henry Cisneros and Ed Rendell as leaders of a—yes, that word again—bipartisan task force to push immigration reform.
But Gangs of Six and task forces full of Very Serious People are a dime a dozen in Washington. It’s only when people with real power speak up that real change can occur.
Now, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House Majority Leader who has long been measuring the drapes in the Speaker of the House’s office, has weighed in on immigration reform, as well as a “rebranding” of the GOP as a kinder, gentler party.
Starting with a highly publicized speech at the American Enterprise Institute last week and continuing with an appearance on “Meet the Press” Sunday, Cantor has begun to stake out a new position that may very well attract enough Republicans to get some form of immigration reform through the House of Representatives, that snake pit of obstruction and extremism.
Here’s what Cantor told David Gregory Sunday:
One of the great founding principles of our country was that children would not be punished for the mistakes of their parents, and it is time to provide an opportunity for legal residents and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children and who know no other home.
But wait a minute–isn’t that a key provision of the Dream Act, which some Republicans backed until the party went way to the right? Cantor said, “I don’t know what The Dream Act, at this point, is.” But helping the children of immigrants was also exactly what the president did when he issued an executive order last year that Republicans labeled as pandering and tyranny.
Just a few years ago, Republicans like George W. Bush and John McCain supported initiatives like this. But remember what happened to Texas Gov. Rick Perry in the Republican debates when he said if you don’t support college education for children of immigrants, then “you don’t have a heart”?
His chief opponent, Mitt Romney, seized on that and took a hardline position on immigration, even calling for self-deportation. It helped him win the Republican nomination but he was never able to Etch a Sketch it away. President Obama won more than 70% of the Hispanic and Asian vote.
That set off alarm bells for smart Republicans, who did the math and saw they may lose the fastest growing part of the electorate forever.
Their biggest short-term problem, however, is the white nativists among their own voters. Cantor gave a nod to them on Meet the Press when he emphasized border security, but it remains an open question whether they’ll get with the program or fight to preserve a vanishing America and take the entire GOP down with them.