This conceit was always a fond delusion, not least because most Hispanics are not single-issue voters, and their leftward tilt has always been related to broader socioeconomic concerns. So with them, as with most Americans, the problem for Republicans in 2008 and 2012 was much bigger than the immigration issue: it was a platform designed for the challenges of 1980, and rhetoric that seemed to write off half the country as layabouts and moochers. And any solution for the party, in 2016 and beyond, would have to offer much more than the same old Reagan-era script with an amnesty stapled at the bottom.
Fortunately for the Republican future, we’re finally beginning to see the right’s politicians reckon with this reality, and throw themselves into the real work of reform. Indeed, this is happening more quickly than I once expected: in just the last week alone, recent Republican forays on tax reform, poverty and prisons have been joined by a plausible health care alternative and baby steps toward a proposal to help the long-term uninsured.
But that, too, is part of what makes the leadership’s immigration fixation so perverse. For the first time since the Bush presidency, high-profile Republicans are showing an interest in policy ideas that are fresh, politically savvy and well suited to the current economic malaise. Which makes it exactly the wrong time for the party to throw itself into a furious debate over an idea that is none of the above.