Appease the Base or Reach out?
There are plenty of signs that the Republican Party is in various stages of disarray at the moment. Arguably, their biggest challenge in the years ahead is finding a way to appeal to Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans and young people – voters outside their comfort zone.
But at its recent summer meeting in Boston, the Republican National Committee seemed to take a step backward. The RNC passed a resolution that called for the completion of a fence along the southwestern border and stipulated that most Americans oppose any form of amnesty that would open a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
The pathway to citizenship is a crucial part of any immigration package for Hispanic voters, and for most Democrats in Congress. By staking out a big fat “No!” on the idea, Republicans are potentially undermining attempts to put on a different face for minority voters in upcoming elections.
Not all Republicans agree with this approach. There is a faction that seriously wants to address Mitt Romney’s dismal showing in last year’s election when President Barack Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote. These Republicans believe that unless the party can find a way to broaden its appeal among Hispanic and younger voters they may be doomed in future presidential elections.
But at the moment the conservative Tea Party activists and the “strengthen the border” crowd seem to be holding sway, and Republican lawmakers who support a path to citizenship could invite a conservative primary challenger in next year’s midterm congressional elections. It’s that fear of a challenge from the right that has many Republicans reluctant to get behind anything that could later be described by critics as amnesty.
The Senate has already passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill with some Republican support that strengthens the border security and lays out a long and winding path for citizenship. House Republican leaders have already rejected that approach and say they will pursue a piece by piece approach that focuses first and foremost on border security.
Republicans face some key decisions when lawmakers return to Washington in early September. In addition to questions about what the House of Representatives will do about immigration reform, Congress and President Obama face an October 1st deadline on funding the government. The current temporary spending bill expires at the end of September and the upcoming budget battles over the budget sequester cuts, raising the debt limit and whether to defund Obamacare could all come to a head next month.
There is a group of Republicans pushing hard on the idea of cutting off funding for the implementation of the president’s health care reform law. So far the Republican congressional leadership is keeping a low profile on the issue. Many of them think the idea of risking a government shutdown over defunding Obamacare is politically reckless. But they are also afraid of offending conservative and Tea Party activists who have seized on the idea as a rallying cry.
Among those pushing the idea in the Senate are Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah. Cruz, Rubio and Paul are all likely Republican presidential contenders in 2016 and it seems none of them wants to be caught on the wrong side of this issue looking ahead to the presidential primaries.
Even if the attempt to defund the health care law fails, many of the 2016 contenders could use the issue as a litmus test in the coming campaigns, putting some rivals on the defensive and subject to attack from the right for not standing up against Obamacare in Congress. Expect this to be an issue no matter happens in the 2016 presidential primaries and another potential divide between Tea Party supporters and establishment Republicans.
Cruz to Canada: No Thanks, eh
Speaking of 2016, is Ted Cruz going to have a “birther” problem? Cruz was born in Canada, but because his mother was an American citizen, he became one at birth. The bonus here is that Canada also considers him a citizen because he was born in Calgary. But Cruz is now going the extra step of renouncing his Canadian citizenship, which most pundits believe is a sign he is serious about running for president three years from how.
Cruz has already had a meteoric rise to national prominence among conservatives. He won his Senate seat just last year and quickly ruffled some feathers of the old guard, including colleagues like John McCain. But fellow Republicans have also noticed Cruz’s ability to rile up the right on issues like Obamacare and immigration, and it became clear early on that some veteran Republican senators did not want to cross him. But Cruz may be making as many enemies as friends among Republicans with his ambition and willingness to grab the spotlight.
Lots of Republicans Looking to 2016
One Republican senator to keep an eye on for 2016 is Rand Paul of Kentucky. Paul is the logical inheritor of his father’s national political organization and that could pay huge dividends in early presidential contest states like Iowa and New Hampshire where Paul’s hybrid brand of conservatism and libertarianism could motivate a lot of grass roots activists.
Paul inspired a lot of conservatives and even some liberals with a libertarian bent earlier this year with his Senate filibuster aimed at the Obama administration’s extensive use of drones. Paul is also trying to reach out to African American and Hispanic voters, and you might also look for him to visit a lot of college campuses in the months to come. Among all the prospective Republican contenders for 2016, Paul seems to have the most potential to expand the Republican brand beyond older white voters. It still looks to me that by the time 2016 rolls around, a lot of Republicans unhappy with the establishment and looking for a new face will likely be drawn to Paul. More establishment-oriented Republicans may gravitate toward New Jersey Governor Chris Christie because they may see him as their best general election candidate.
There are some dark horses waiting in the wings for 2016, including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Florida governor Jeb Bush. Walker appeals to conservative activists around the country for the way he stood up to organized labor. Bush appeals to the Republican establishment, but so far has given little indication he’s interested in running.
Other Republicans could get interested in the race as well if there is no clear frontrunner, including Ohio Governor John Kasich. Kasich and Walker are both up for re-election next year and convincing victories in those two swing states could make them more appealing to Republicans around the country.