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GOP Operatives Warned Sidestepping Immigration Reform Could Explode In Primaries

And I'll be darned, that's exactly what happened!

Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent reminds us that saner voices within the Republican party pointed out that sidestepping immigration reform would lead us to a demagogue like The Donald:

So here’s a friendly reminder: this whole Trump mess probably could have been avoided. If Republicans had simply held votes on immigration reform in 2013 or in early 2014, it probably would have passed. That likely would have made it harder for Trump-ism to take hold to the degree it has so far.

Before you ridicule me for suggesting that Republicans would be better off today if they had simply done what I wanted them to do — pass immigration reform — please recall that GOP leaders themselves said at the time that they wanted to pass immigration reform. Even reform that included a path to legalization for the 11 million.

In July of 2013, House Speaker John Boehner strongly suggested that he would hold a vote on some kind of bill that included legalization, in order to “find out” whether it could pass the House. In January of 2014, House GOP leaders rolled out a set of broad principles that included a path to legal status. These were real steps forward for a party whose nominee had embraced self-deportation less than two years earlier. In the spring of 2014, Boehner even mocked fellow Republicans for their reluctance to embrace reform, mimicking them as follows: “Ohhhh. Don’t make me do this. Ohhhh. This is too hard.”

But conservatives revolted, Boehner shelved plans to pursue reform, and Republican leaders and aides quietly assured reporters that the party could always pass reform in 2015, to fix the Latino problem in time for 2016.

But some Republicans explicitly warned at the time that if the party failed to pass reform in 2014, it would only get harder to do so in 2015, because the GOP primaries would start up. GOP pollster Whit Ayres warned:

“If Republicans wait until 2015 to tackle this issue, that puts a very emotional and controversial issue right in the middle of the Republican presidential selection process. The opportunity for demagoguery will be exceedingly prevalent if we wait that long. It could drag the entire field to the right on immigration.”

Veteran GOP operative Rob Jesmer similarly warned that if Republicans didn’t embrace reform, “presidential politics will consume our party, which will make it more difficult to get it passed. ” Jesmer added: “We will severely diminish our chances of winning the presidential election in 2016 if this isn’t solved.” And as Jonathan Chait details, some conservative pundits, operating from the same rationale, also called for Republicans to pass “immigration reform as quickly as possible” and take the short term hit from the right, “allowing the base to vent its spleen and make up in time for the presidential campaign.”

In other words, some Republicans warned at the time that the party needed to embrace reform precisely to avoid the epic slow-motion disaster that might unfold if immigration got tied up in primary politics, creating fertile conditions for a talented demagogue to pull the party further to the right. Which is exactly what is happening now.

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