Mickey Kaus has a sharp critique of Tony Blankley’s suggested immigration compromise over at Slate. Kaus’s points have to be taken seriously, but I’m not convinced. Kaus dismisses Blankley’s opposition to amnesty by saying that Blankley’s not actually proposing a compromise, but an unattainable Republican victory. Then Kaus says Republicans ought to kill amnesty now by sinking the whole bill. Kaus says we should wait to push an amnesty-free bill under the next president.
So Kaus thinks an amnesty-free bill is impossible now, but just might squeak through in a new administration. Pushing for an amnesty-free bill now, says Kaus, will yield a bogus partial amnesty, lawyered up with loopholes that amount to a conservative loss. Maybe so, but waiting to pass an amnesty-free bill under a new president sounds like pie-in-the-sky to me. Pro-amnesty Democrats and a split Republican Party are likely to recreate today’s political dynamic, whoever the next president is. That would mean a weakened Republican Party for some time. It also means that our likely choice will continue to be between a compromise bill and no bill at all.
If whatever compromise we get has liberal amnesty provisions, no bill at all is the way to go. But Kaus isn’t worried by the political consequences for Republicans of a failed bill. I am. (Or, who knows, maybe Kaus understands perfectly well how politically helpful to Republicans a successful compromise would be.) If Kaus is right that an amnesty-free, or nearly amnesty-free, bill turns out to be impossible, then let the House Republicans walk away at that point. But I think it’s in the Republicans’ interest to push for a compromise that the country would favor, whether it ultimately passes or not. I think the public would respond well to a Blankley-like formula. Let the Democrats take the blame for sinking the bill because they insist on strong amnesty provisions. If forced to choose between a very weak citizenship track and no bill at all, I’m betting the president would sign the bill.
But all this depends on the house Republicans remaining united, forceful, and smart. It might seem impossible, but given the political stakes, I think smart tactics and a (sufficiently) united front are possible. (The latest tough talk from Jim Sensenbrenner is a good sign.) There will be brinksmanship here, and lots of fancy dancing. But political dangers faced by the Republican coalition make the risky negotiation process worth a try. Right now, the anger of the Republican base is actually pushing us toward a successful compromise (as we saw with the Senate wall vote last night). But someone needs to prepare the base to accept what could turn out to be a substantively workable and politically advantageous deal. I think Blankley is serving admirably as that necessary good cop.
Why is it worth the effort to turn the lemon in the president’s speech into lemonade? Just have a look at this piece by Jed Babbin, especially the final paragraph.