BY: RUDY MAYOR
Momentum on comprehensive immigration reform has withered away - and we can feel it. What was once an optimistic group of eight Senators who seemed to embody the only qualities of productivity in all of government, is now a frequently maligned faction that dared to break the cycle of dysfunctional governance in Washington. There is no doubt that the Gang of Eight’s influence is in decline; the group is a vestige of its former self.
Yet, the same Senator who was anointed by his peers as the leader of the Gang of Eight and the entire immigration reform movement now stands as the lone victor in this whole ordeal regardless of what happens. Senator Marco Rubio’s efforts have been a full-time effort of part-politics / part-governing. Rubio was able to remain an insider and indispensible piece of the immigration reform process, while exhibiting a willingness to forcefully shape the conversation and the content of the bill. He did all this based on the conservative cues he received from keeping his finger on the GOP pulse – he did it masterfully.
Those who sincerely believe that immigration reform is necessary – as I do - will certainly feel the biggest blow if the bill fails. Its failure will not only mean that millions of persons here illegally will continue to live and work in the shadows, but it will embody what is now the new norm in governance. Our immigration system might be broken, but we can’t fix it with a government that is equally broken.
Pass or Fail – Rubio is the big winner in all of this. His good faith effort in trying to resolve the immigration ordeal has been influenced, in part, by his understanding that besides President Obama (who would actually be signing the bill) he would be the highest ranking politician to take credit for the feat. He could go to the American people in 2016 with a significant legislative accomplishment under his belt. He could promise the American people an Administration that embodies the principles of cooperation and results reminiscent of his time as leader of the Gang of Eight. He could say that Obama talked about it – he talked the talk and walked the walk.
Of course, the bigger win for Rubio (and Republicans) would be if immigration reform failed in 2013, only to be reconsidered in 2017. Promises of a renewed effort for comprehensive immigration reform would easily be believed since Rubio got us so close as a junior Senator. If Rubio promised that it would be the first thing on his agenda as President, there is no doubt that he could swing the increasingly Hispanic swing-states red. Not only would it be a win for Rubio, it would be a win for the Republican Party.
No one can argue that the GOP has had a difficult time reaching out to specific ethnic groups. Concededly, the GOP has almost always focused on a broad principled message rather than targeting specific ethnic factions with community specific promises. The reality is that ethnic politics in America is on the rise and the fact that the GOP has been so slow in reacting to this trend might lead to many more losing elections. The GOP has taken the necessary first step by recognizing the need to reach out to more ethnic groups. Identifying specific issues that can appeal to various groups, even various sub-groups within a larger Hispanic population, is the necessary next step. Forging ethnic alliances and loyalties are not entirely new for the GOP. Cuban-Americans vote in a loyal block for the GOP stemming back from Reagan’s forceful anti-communist message. Pro-Statehood Puerto Ricans are often associated with Republican Party members who have been more open to the idea than Democrats.
Spearheading a 2017 effort and signing comprehensive immigration reform as President could have a lasting effect on the image of the Republican Party for decades to come. The dual interest in immigration reform and preserving the party of Lincoln and Reagan will be on Rubio’s mind if immigration reform fails. At this point, Rubio has a choice to try his hardest at passing the bill or sitting back and watching it fail. Either way, in his eyes, his hard work was not for nothing. Failure of the bill today could mean a win for him and a watershed win for the GOP in less than four years.