“After this repudiation, acting on #immigration by fiat would be the political equivalent of literally flipping the country the bird.”
— Ron Fournier of National Journal on election night on Twitter.
Yesterday’s Democratic wipeout had many causes, but immigration was clearly one of them. When the president said, “My policies are on the ballot this fall,” he was talking about things already done, like Obamacare, but also things to come. And whatever we think he might do in the future, he’s made only one concrete policy promise in that regard — unilateral lawless amnesty for millions of illegal aliens by the end of the year.
Republican Senate candidates were airing about 5,000 more TV ads a week on immigration than Democrats were, one of the three policy areas with the biggest gap between ads by the parties. As Jeffrey Anderson put it, “Given this emphasis, if Republicans take the Senate, it would be hard for objective observers not to view the result as a repudiation of the Democrats on immigration, spending, and — most of all — Obamacare.”
For a Democrat, Mark Pryor used to be good on immigration and helped kill the 2007 bill. But the White House and Senate Democratic leadership basically forced him, along with other soon-to-be-unemployed red-state Dems like Landrieu, Hagan, and Begich, to vote for the 2013 Gang of Eight bill. As Mickey Kaus noted, “Schumer would probably be chairman of the lucrative Banking Committee if he hadn’t pushed his amnesty bill.”
The Republican Senate candidates who are bad on immigration — Gardner and Gillespie, most notably — did not campaign on it. In fact, Gardner, despite supporting amnesty, opposed Obama’s amnesty-by-fiat.
Only one ballot question was focused specifically on immigration: Measure 88 in Oregon, to grant driver’s licenses to illegal aliens. The same voters who backed liberal Democrat Governor John Kitzhaber for a fourth term and approved marijuana legalization also voted against licenses for illegals by a two-to-one margin. Opposition to Measure 88 got more votes than any candidate or any question on the Oregon ballot. And this despite opponents being outspent by more than ten-to-one.
As Kansas secretary of state, Kris Kobach wouldn’t ordinarily attract national attention. But as a leader in the immigration-control movement — John Judis in The New Republic labeled him as “America’s Worst Republican” — he was targeted for defeat. He won by 18 points.
Given these results, Matt Yglesias thinks Obama won’t decree a “bold,” large-scale amnesty after all:
But can you really cry obstruction right after losing an election? Republicans are now able to claim not just that Obama was stretching his authority in a novel way, but doing so specifically to overturn an adverse result in the midterms.
Ezra Klein seconds this sentiment: “At this point, if the action happens at all, my guess is it will be a lot smaller than supporters are expecting.”
But perennially paranoid Mickey Kaus sees a danger that the Republican establishment, driven by the donor class, will still try to pass an amnesty/immigration-surge, perhaps even in the lame duck, when there are more Democrats to help them. This isn’t a baseless concern; Mitt Romney asserted on Sunday that Republicans will pass a comprehensive immigration bill once they take the Senate, and Ari Fleischer, in a piece this morning looking forward to 2016, wrote that “It is high time for the GOP to move forward on immigration reform.”
But as real as the threat is, the same factors that are likely to downgrade Obama’s promises of “bold” executive action into what Yglesias describes as “something cosmetic” also militate against passage of an amnesty/immigration-surge bill by the Republican leadership. Some of the newcomers in the Senate, like Cotton and Perdue, campaigned aggressively against such measures and will join Sessions, Cruz, and Lee in fighting them. What’s more, for the first time a populist labor-market critique of immigration has gotten traction on the right, thanks to the indefatigable efforts of Senator Jeff Sessions, as well as those of Dave Brat, Laura Ingraham, and others. This takes the issue beyond the limited scope of legality and addresses the level of legal immigration itself.
Last night was a historic defeat for the open-borders crowd, marked by much wailing and gnashing of teeth. The GOP wing of that movement — led by Representative Paul Ryan, Senator Jeff Flake, and others — will try to turn that defeat into a victory. They won’t succeed.
— Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.