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The GOP's immigration tussle

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By Jonah Goldberg
Friday, June 28, 2013, 8:57 p.m.
 

I don't know how Democrats do it.

The immigration reform proposal is tearing the Republican Party to pieces. Poor Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., once the golden boy of the tea party and the conservative movement, is being treated like a guy who wants to leave a gang but must submit to a group beating first.

But Rubio is simply the latest javelin catcher in the right's immigration Olympiad. Attention soon will shift to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. House conservatives are poised to block out the sun with arrows aimed at him if he moves the bill without a majority of GOP support.

While the GOP increasingly looks like the fight scene in the movie “Anchorman,” the Democrats under New York Sen. Charles Schumer's leadership look like Snow White's dwarfs, whistling while they work.

The most vocal critic on the left has been independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who plausibly argues that the bill will disproportionately hurt the unskilled and undereducated poor.

Sanders' support was bought with a $1.5 billion youth jobs program buried in the new 1,190-page revised bill.

One reason the Democrats are having an easy time is that their stakeholders can cut deals and the constituencies will go along. Organized labor will get its carve-outs from the Democrats, as will business groups eager to work on a bipartisan basis.

Contrary to popular perception, the GOP is the far more populist and grassroots party these days, and the troops are not in a mood to follow orders.

Democrats are usually the ones decrying the pernicious global trends hampering prosperity for the working poor and middle class. And yet, their biggest priority is a bill that will accelerate those trends.

Last week, when the Congressional Budget Office issued a report that the immigration bill would increase gross national product per capita by 0.2 percent and slightly reduce the deficit in 20 years, Democrats hailed it as a vindication.

It fell to Republicans to note that the same CBO report assumed the legislation would reduce immigration by a mere 25 percent and would very modestly reduce average wages in the first decade.

Polling shows that there's a huge amount of consensus about what to do on immigration. If people here illegally meet strict requirements — pay back taxes, a fine, etc. — support for a path to citizenship is high, even among Republicans. Without those requirements, it plummets.

The same goes for border security. Convince people that this is a one-time thing and not a replay of the amnesty under Ronald Reagan, and most conservatives are eager to put this issue behind us.

The hitch is that the right is just not in a trusting mood. Conservatives feel, with ample justification, that Washington, including the GOP, has been betraying them — by accident or on purpose — for too long.

I can understand that completely. What baffles me is why rank-and-file Democrats don't feel the same way.

Jonah Goldberg is the author of “The Tyranny of Clichés,” now on sale in paperback.

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