The GOP’s Immigration Reform Game Theory Dilemma

My Nemesis

When I was in primary school, at about the age of eight, we had a class assignment to make our own abacuses out of wood. We lovingly spent ages glueing them together and painting them with bright colours – to this day, I am still quite proud of that piece of craftsmanship.

The next day, we were due to use our homemade abacuses in class as part of the maths lesson, and it was then that I brought disaster upon myself and earned the wrath of my entire class. There was a girl who had been sick at home the previous day when we were engaged in our arts & crafts, and who consequently didn’t have an abacus of her own to use when the time came. Our teacher approached my desk, where I sat with my best friend Scott, and asked us if we could lend one of our abacuses to the girl so that she could participate in the lesson.

Uh-oh. I looked at Scott. He looked at me. I didn’t want to let me new abacus out of my sight – it was brand new and I hadn’t had a chance to use it yet. Scott clearly felt the same way, even though his model was crooked, garishly painted and looked as though someone had taken an axe to it. I broke the silence first: “Scott, do you want to…?” but he countered “Sam, do you want to…?” (originality was never his strong point).

The teacher became impatient and told us to make up our minds who would lend out their abacus, or the lesson would go ahead sans abacuses for everyone in the class. And still we prevaricated. Even though both Scott and I knew that everyone else in the class was getting increasingly pissed off with us, and that we were in grave danger of ruining the fun lesson for everyone, we couldn’t compromise. So the lesson was cancelled, and Scott and I sat alone at lunch that day.

I recall this long-winded story because the Republican Party is currently making the exact same error that I made when I was eight years old and in primary school, with respect to their stance on immigration reform. Only they have infinitely less excuse, because they are not eight years old (perhaps in mental age) and are paid handsome federal salaries to produce legislation to solve problems.

The Huffington Post reports:

Many House Republicans are chilly or openly hostile to the bipartisan bill before the Senate, embraced by President Barack Obama. Even substantial changes to the bill may do little to placate these lawmakers, who demand strict crackdowns on unlawful border crossings and no “amnesty” for people here illegally.

These Republicans don’t deny that weak support from Hispanic voters is hurting GOP presidential nominees. And they concede the problem may worsen if Latinos think Republicans are blocking “immigration reform.”

These House members, however, worry much more about their own constituents’ opposition to the proposed changes. And they fear a challenge in the next Republican primary if they ignore those concerns.

“It’s hard to argue with the polling they’ve been getting from the national level,” said Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Texas, referring to signs of serious problems for Republican presidential candidates if immigration laws aren’t rewritten. “I just don’t experience it locally.”

Even the house members themselves admit this gap between the interests of the national party and their local districts. The article goes on to explain the reasoning behind House Republicans’ stances in more detail:

House Republicans, however, spend far more time talking and worrying about their own election prospects, not the next presidential nominee’s.

“It’s a classic challenge when the best interests of the party are at odds with the best interests of the majority of the members individually,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. He is close to Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders who want a major immigration bill to pass.

“What it takes to get a deal with a Democratic Senate and a Democratic president makes it extraordinarily difficult for a lot of (House) members,” Cole said, “because it can cause you a big problem in your primary.”

Ah yes, the much-feared Tea Party challenge from the right. That nagging fear in the back of the minds of all Republican congressmen and women in this age of the Unreasonable GOP. The fear that leads to gems like this:

Rep. Paul Broun, also seeking Georgia’s Senate nomination, said any immigration deal “must make English the official language of the country.” The U.S.-Mexican border, he said, must be secured “totally, whatever it takes. A double fence high enough to make sure it’s secure.”

Some Republicans wince at talk of massive double fences and making English the official language. They say it fuels arguments that the GOP is unwelcoming to all Hispanics, legal or not.

Hispanic voters are not a homogeneous block, and it would be patronising in the extreme to assume (as many do) that Hispanic disenchantment with the GOP is exclusively due to their policy on immigration reform and what to do with illegal immigrants already settled in the country. Hispanics, like every other voter block, have a whole web of different voting priorities. But with language like this from Rep. Paul Broun (incidentally nominated as America’s Craziest Congressman by Bill Maher), it is not hard to understand how the Republicans managed to lose the Hispanic vote 27-71% in 2012.

I generally don’t like to write articles about process, i.e. the mechanics of how a particular bill gets passed, or the ways in which parties and politicians manoeuvre for advantage. That stuff is usually personality-based gossip of secondary importance, and is covered more than enough by the likes of Politico. But in this case, the process is genuinely interesting and has ramifications that go way beyond who wins the news cycle on a given day, and therefore I decided that it is worthy of comment and discussion.

At some point the Republicans are going to have to make a choice. They cannot claim to be a national party with aspirations of winning future presidential elections without addressing the fact that they overwhelmingly lost the Black, Hispanic, Asian and Female vote in 2012. Yes, in the immediate aftermath of Mitt Romney’s implosion there was a little bit of hand-wringing and soul-searching, but we are now very much back to business-as-usual.

Scarcely a week passes without some new Republican (male) politician deciding to hold forth on the topic of rape in front of a live microphone, or accuse American Muslims of being complicit in terrorist attacks when they don’t denounce them as loudly as is apparently required, or talking about the superiority of a “man’s brain” when it comes to analysing the implications of laws such as ObamaCare.

These cheap, nasty little stunts might play very well back home in their heavily gerrymandered conservative districts, but they will be fatal for the Republicans in 2016. But right now, the party that likes to campaign under slogans such as “Country First” is fragmented, self-serving and unable to step back and solve any problem bigger than avoiding a Tea Party primary challenge.


2 thoughts on “The GOP’s Immigration Reform Game Theory Dilemma

  1. marylhooper June 19, 2013 / 7:51 PM

    Ah ha…. so the answer of “Nothing” in response to every parent’s question “What did you do at school today?” isn’t always strictly accurate 🙂 x


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