As the immigration reform debate goes on it is becoming the dividing line within the Republican Party. While many in the establishment wing of the Republican Party want the current immigration reform to go forward they are facing a battle from immigration hawks, who are attempting to mobilize the anti-immigration hardline grassroots support along with conservative media to turn the tide against immigration reform.
Immigration reform is seen as one of the broader issues that the Republican Party can utilize to increase their favorability in vital demographic groups. But the battle-taking place within the Republican Party over immigration reform shows how hazardous making any attempt at change within it can be.
Perhaps no politician has suffered more of the wraith of the anti-immigration wing of the Republicans then Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). One only has to take a look at the cover of the latest issue of the National Review to see what kind of beating he is taking over being the Republican’s point man on immigration.
Rubio comes from Florida, a crucial swing state that clearly shows the need for the GOP to improve its outreach from its usual white voting base. In 2012 Romney won Florida white voters over by 24%, but Obama won 60% of Hispanic voters. The extremely close margin that Obama won by, 0.88%, combined with the fact the Hispanics made up 17% of all Florida voters, a number expected to increase in future elections, shows that if the Republicans cannot expand their base, crucial swing states like Florida may become Democratic strongholds.
Powerful Republican politicians like Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie are backing immigration reform along with major mega-donors, such as Paul Singer, who threw down a six-figure donation towards a pro-immigration reform group.
But in white majority states that are solidly Republican, such as Iowa and Nebraska, the grassroots push is coming the strongest at both a local level and from Republican politicians. Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Representative Steven King (R-Iowa) are some of the more outspoken critics of the immigration bill. In Nebraska, the Washington Post described the feeling of some of the Republican grassroots. Susan Gumm said that those who favored immigration reform to bring in new voters, "[…] will destroy the Republican Party."
Sections of the conservative media establishment have joined in the crusade against immigration reform as well a key factor in the defeat of the last attempt. When the anti-immigration lobby managed to convince Republicans to defeat former President George W. Bush’s immigration plan in 2007, conservative talk shows had immigration make up 23% of their airtime at the height of the debate. The media overall had immigration only take up 9% of their airtime.
Right now the numbers are nowhere near that date. According to Dan Balz of the Washington Post, Rubio has his staff monitor how much conservative media talks about immigration reform. Rush Limbaugh is currently at 12 minutes a day, Hannity at 6 minutes, Mark Levin at 14 minutes, and Laura Ingraham at 35 minutes a day. This is not the level of 2007 but if it start to go up it could spell trouble for any attempt at immigration reform.
And while there has been a push to use the same strategies that defeated the last immigration, some of the old standbys are facing pushback. Most visible is the effort against the immigration study recent released by the Heritage Foundation. The study is an update of a previous study in 2007 and reached the same conclusion that immigration reform would be a huge drain on the economy. That study was used to defeat the previous push for immigration reform in 2007. The new study was immediately criticized by a variety of conservative politicians, think tanks, and pundits in a way that put the Heritage Foundation on the defensive for once, completely botching its initial roll-out.
It is a very dangerous time to take a stance on immigration reform in the Republican Party. With all the fire flying through the debate one side will eventually have to give group to the other. The only question is who will be the political casualties on the march to the end.