The immigration bidding war

Without getting too deep into Sean Trende’s “missing white voters” territory here, I’ll just say it’s pretty easy to imagine a Republican making some gains in those states relative to 2012 if Hillary keeps running left, and there may eventually be a new path to a Republican electoral majority that runs through the Rust Belt. On the other hand, the G.O.P. has enough ground to make up to get there that trading white votes in the Midwest for 2012-levels of Hispanic support and turnout in Florida and Colorado could still be a winning deal for Democrats in 2016. (Though as Bouie’s passing references to the other branches of government suggests, there’s also the question of whether a political strategy that so far has produced frequent midterm and state-level wipeouts is actually all that genius for Democrats even if it puts another Clinton in the White House.)

But even this is too static a way of looking at the bidding-war issue, because it assumes that all Hispanic or recent-immigrant voters are ethno-nationalist automatons who only vote for the candidate who comes the closest to promising to open the borders to all comers, instead of normal multi-issue voters who might look at a Republican who’s promising some immigration reform but not the Full Hillary and say, well, he seems reasonable and non-nativist and while I might be closer to the Democratic position I’m willing to give his overall agenda a second look.

I’m making this argument, incidentally, as someone who expects the don’t-pin-me-down G.O.P. candidates to end up with actual policies that are more favorable toward low-skilled immigration than my own, and for civic reasons I’m also not wild about the “legal status but no citizenship” compromise that many Republicans are inclined to float. But purely from a political point of view, I don’t see any reason why those kind of bids will necessarily lose out, with Hispanics or anyone, to a left-wing alternative that involves explicitly promising measures more extra-constitutional even than Obama’s. It’s just as likely, as Ramesh Ponnuru puts it, that even though “many Hispanics will prefer Clinton’s approach … if Republicans advance their own ideas in a measured way, they can avoid looking like the immigrant-haters that Clinton wants to make them out to be. And she might even come across as someone who is willing to say or do anything for political convenience — even if it means ignoring the presidential oath of office.”