John Cornyn Is Going To Kill Immigration Reform, Cuz What Does He Care?

by evanmcmurry

We’ve had seven months of talk about the Republican party “rebranding” itself, and just as many months of people like me saying the problem is not with how they talk about issues (“legitimate rape”) but their actual policy positions. It’s hard not to say stupid things when those stupid things a direct expression of your beliefs.

These two are about to come to a head. John Cornyn—now Texas’ more responsible and reasonable Senator!—has found a way to poison immigration reform: he’s insisting on a whole slew of border security triggers* that must be met before any pathway to citizenship begins, or GOP senators walk. The border security threshold would be impossible to ever satisfy, which is exactly Cornyn’s intent: they would render the entire pathway to citizenship moot. Democrats won’t vote for a bill that doesn’t do any of what they want it to do. There goes immigration reform.

This puts Marco Rubio in a tight spot. If he sticks with the Gang of Eight compromise (that he helped write!), Cornyn and the entire conservative press will hang him out to dry, the bill will likely die in the Senate, and the GOP will get credit for killing it; if he goes toward Cornyn, he loses Democratic support, the bill will be dead on arrival, and the GOP will definitely get the credit for killing it.

There’s nothing here that’s a branding problem. Cornyn doesn’t care how immigration reform plays (though he should); he’s against it, and if these border security triggers don’t kill the bill he can always take one more step to the right. This is what he and a lot of the GOP believes. It’s not a matter of selling, or marketing, or messaging, or anything. It’s a direct expression of the beliefs of the party. And this is on the one issue, immigration, the GOP was supposed to cede to electoral realities.

Marco Rubio had, for a while, been laudable in his efforts to promote the Gang of Eight compromise and smack down misinformation from his own side about the bill, to the continuing consternation of conservative purists who thought he was selling out the party. But in the past week or so, it appears the constant pressure from the right has gotten to him, and he’s started talking about stricter border enforcement standards.* That’s not a messaging problem: he’s losing the policy argument, and if he loses it, no amount of “rebranding” will change it. This is the moment when the GOP either becomes a modern party theoretically capable of winning national elections, or one that plays eternal spoiler to basic governance. Their public statements and messaging and the rest will be purely a result of which path they choose.

* We’re leaving aside for the moment that America doesn’t have a border security or illegal immigration problem.