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Immigration pains for GOP

The conservative movement has spent the last two weeks gearing up for what it’s seeing as an existential battle over comprehensive immigration reform. 

Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) says, “This will be the end of the Republican Party if it passes.” A staff editorial at the conservative National Review noted, “Low-income households headed by single mothers and dependent upon some form of welfare are not looking for an excuse to join forces with Paul Ryan and Pat Toomey.” Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh has proclaimed himself a lonely leader in the fight to protect the GOP against a new horde of voters: “[Republicans] believe if they don’t do it, they will never win the presidency again because they will never get Hispanic votes. They have been convinced that Hispanics hate them because of immigration. Now, we know this isn’t true.”

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Reform would certainly mean the eventual creation of more than 10 million new potential voters, and their profile should give Republicans reason to panic. Pew polling has shown that Hispanics are more favorable toward socialism than even Occupy Wall Street protesters. Exit polling in 2012 showed Hispanics were more pro-choice and pro-marriage-equality than the general population, despite claims that Republicans could compete with them on social issues. In retrospect, that shouldn’t have been surprising — the median age of native-born Hispanics is 18 years, and millennials are the most tolerant generation in our nation’s history.

So to be clear, conservative critics are correct — the Republican Party will suffer short-term pain if immigration reform passes. Now, it could be up to a decade before most of the people legalized would get a chance to cast their first votes — all current plans would require undocumented immigrants to go to the “back of the line” to have their applications processed, and that line is already inexcusably long. But the Senate plan would move far more quickly with illegal immigrants brought to this country as minors, as well as agricultural workers. Republicans can’t afford even a few million extra Democratic voters within the next couple of years — not when their own are demographically dwindling. 

On the other hand, Republicans will already suffer short-term pain. The angry white male demographic isn’t growing. Non-Hispanic whites made up 77 percent of presidential voters in 2004, 74 percent in 2008 and 72 percent in 2010, and are expected to make up 70 percent in 2016. If 2012 played out with those expected 2016 demographics, President Obama’s 3.9-point victory margin would’ve been 5.2 points. And that trend is only accelerating.

Arkansas State Sen. Jason Rapert (R) got big cheers when he recently told a crowd, “You [Barack Obama] don’t represent the country that I grew up with. And your values is [sic] not going to save us. We’re going to take this country back to the Lord. We’re going to try to take this country back for conservatism. And we’re not going to allow minorities to run roughshod over what you people believe in!” This bigot does not recognize what America is today, and it is that blindness that is dooming him — and his party — to permanent minority status. 

Republicans have no choice but to suffer short-term pain. The big question is whether they’ll resign themselves to long-term pain, or whether they start repairing the damage they’ve done with America’s fast-growing Hispanic and Asian voters. Siding with reformers will shorten their time in the wilderness; siding with Limbaugh will make it permanent.

Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com)