The Tea Party was part of the problem in 2012 and it plans to be the solution in 2016. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is the latest Republican, and a respected Tea Party leader, to undergo an immigration conversion.
Speaking at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Paul outlined an immigration plan that would provide a legal pathway for illegal immigrants in the country, asking to "start that conversation by acknowledging we aren't going to deport 12 million illegal immigrants." A "legal" pathway as opposed to the "pathway for citizenship" that Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has been advocating for as part of conversations in D.C. for an immigration overhaul.
"The solution doesn't have to be amnesty or deportation — a middle ground might be called probation where those who came illegally become legal through a probationary period," he explained.
It is a crucial distinction that has catapulted Paul into the spotlight as a possible candidate in the 2016 presidential elections. Failed 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was unable to contest the Hispanic vote following a primary where he had endorsed extreme right-wing immigration stances. Romney's "self-deportation" rhetoric went simply too far. Seventy-one-percent of Latinos voted Democrat in 2012, with only 27% aligning with the Republican Party.
Healing the rift within the Republican Party and contesting the Hispanic vote are two important goals coming out of these discussions. Rubio offers an immigration plan that is more palatable to Hispanics, but Paul's immigration law may be more palatable to the different factions within the Republican Party. Showing willingness to concentrate on the "votes of a group of people who already identify with our belief in family, faith, and conservative values," Paul is cautious not to alarm conservatives who fear this could result in 11 million new Democratic voters.
"Conservatives, myself included, are wary of amnesty. My plan will not grant amnesty or move anyone to the front of the line," he affirmed.
Managing the Tea Party's political weight has been nothing short of disastrous for many Republicans. Rand Paul is cleverly creating a position that allows him to preserve support from the most conservative factions in the party, with leadership on immigration that can begin to address the electoral challenges of 2016. Coining the phrase "El Partido del Sueño Americano" (The Party of the American Dream), and quoting both Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez — to applauses from the Hispanic audience — Rand Paul wants to show that charismatic connection with Hispanics that Republicans have lacked in recent years.
However his proposal already faces challengers and critics from both the right and the left. Rand Paul demands that border security be the first step before legalization, with a deal that would let Congress vote to decide whether the border is secure, which would allow the legalization process to begin. Janet Napolitano, secretary of Homeland Security, spoke about the Senator's proposal and said, "relying on a so-called trigger is not the way to go."
As Republicans move to repair frayed relationships with Latinos, Rand Paul's vision targets the unification of different voices within the party to avoid the repetition of party conflict that created a nominee, in Romney, unfit for national elections. Hispanics increased political weight is a challenge and an opportunity for hopeful Republican candidates. How far the immigration reform goes is linked to electoral viability of candidates within their party and in the national stage.