Politics & Policy

The RNC’s 2012 Autopsy Was Wrong

Marco Rubio with other members of the “Gang of Eight,” January 28, 2013. (Alex Wong/Getty)

To understand Marco Rubio’s decision to support the “Gang of Eight” bill in 2013, look no further than the Republican National Committee’s official autopsy of what went wrong in 2012, which proved spectacularly wrong in predicting what the political environment would look like at the end of President Obama’s second term.

The “Growth and Opportunity Project,” as it was called, avoided making specific policy recommendations to Republicans, with one glaring exception: “We are not a policy committee, but among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only.”

The Gang of Eight bill was the primary congressional effort to follow that advice, and Rubio was arguably the figure who most clearly embodied the autopsy’s recommendations. But three years removed from Rubio’s ill-fated effort, it’s obvious that the GOP dodged a bullet.

Today the party is in the midst of a rough, impassioned, and intermittently ugly debate over illegal immigration. Donald Trump rocketed to the front of the Republican pack last year, in large part because of his promise to build a complete, impenetrable, Mexican-financed wall along the southern border and to deport all 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. Ted Cruz touts his opposition to the Gang of Eight bill, and insists that the amendments he offered at the time, which would have preserved a path to permanent residency, only represented “poison pills” designed to demonstrate Democratic intransigence. Rubio himself has tried to disavow the bill, arguing that it proved unworkable because “the American people have zero trust that the federal government will enforce our laws.”

Had the congressional GOP gotten behind the RNC’s advice en masse in 2013, our impassioned debate, and cries of “amnesty” and “xenophobia,” would have arrived three years earlier. Instead of seeing historic wins in 2014, the party probably would have ripped itself apart, as immigration restrictionists mounted furious primary challenges to the Republicans who had defied their wishes.

Recall that in the summer of 2014, tens of thousands of young men, women, and children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras flooded across our southern border. U.S. Border Patrol officers found that 95 percent of illegal crossers mentioned the rumor that the United States was offering “permisos” (a free pass or permit) to children. This was a misinterpretation of President Obama’s 2012 executive order — in which he announced that he would no longer deport young people — and it demonstrated the danger that immigration reform may actually attract more illegal immigrants. Had the GOP helped pass Rubio’s plan in 2013, they would have been equally culpable for the tide of young people crossing the border the next year, and that tide would likely have been even larger.

#share#The Republican base may or may not be on board with the idea of deporting every last illegal immigrant, but there exists a broad consensus that we must make our southern border as impenetrable as possible and that illegal immigrants should face significant consequences for breaking the law. While there are very few who think legal immigration should cease entirely, 67 percent of Republicans (and 49 percent of all Americans) think legal immigration should be reduced from current levels.

The RNC report’s advocacy for a path to citizenship was a slap in the face to those Republicans who had long been angry about illegal immigration.

The RNC report’s advocacy for a path to citizenship was a slap in the face to those Republicans who had long been angry about illegal immigration. Businesses big and small made the decision to employ illegal immigrants in violation of the law. A generation of Washington politicians responded with a tacit shrug, even after 9/11. That same generation of politicians, running a government infrastructure capable of reading all of our e-mails and vacuuming up the metadata from all of our cell phones, didn’t seem to care that millions of visitors had overstayed their visas and disappeared from the system. Local governments that will nail you for an expired parking meter announced they were “sanctuary cities” and would no longer cooperate with federal efforts to deport those here illegally. And Immigration and Customs Enforcement, charged with leading those efforts, botched its most basic duties.

Again, in late 2012 and early 2013, it wasn’t easy for the RNC team to foresee that these scandals would capture the public’s attention and remain at the forefront of Republicans minds. But it wasn’t exactly impossible, either.

#related#As it is, the world beyond our borders seems more dangerous than it was at the start of Obama’s second term. ISIS is ascendant in the Middle East, November’s Paris attacks showed just how big a threat the group poses to the West, and the San Bernardino shooters brought the threat to our shores.

It’s the failures of the past four years that make the solutions now being offered seem so tin-eared. Americans are angrier, more pessimistic, less patient — in short, fed up. Barack Obama got us into this mess. But the Republican nominee will have to openly address the anger he’s left boiling in voters if we ever hope to get out of it.

— Jim Geraghty is the senior political correspondent for National Review.

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