In the face of furious hyperbolic opposition from the Republican party who warned him that he was threatening to undermine the very foundations of democracy in the US, president Obama has gone ahead with his plan to use his executive powers to temporarily spare anywhere from three to five million undocumented immigrants from the threat of deportation for three years by offering them temporary legal status.
While Republicans have been threatening Armageddon if he carried out his promise to do so, others have argued that the reason that they were so determined to try and intimidate him from carrying out this move was because they realized that it would put them in a very bad position politically, because opposition to it and threatening to undo would further cement their reputation as the home for nativists, xenophobes, and racists.
Kevin Drum goes further and says that this was a brilliant political move on Obama’s part.
For what it’s worth, I think Obama deserves credit for an unusually brilliant political move here. Some of this is accidental: he would have announced his immigration plan earlier in the year if he hadn’t gotten pushback from red-state Democratic senators who didn’t want to deal with this during tough election battles. Still, he stuck to his guns after the midterm losses, and the result seems to be almost an unalloyed positive for his party.
The downside, after all, is minimal: the public says it’s mildly unhappy with Obama using an executive order to change immigration rules. But that’s a nothingburger. Outside of the Fox News set that’s already convinced Obama is a tyrant bent on shredding the Constitution, this simply isn’t something that resonates very strongly or for very long. It will be forgotten in a few weeks.
The upside, conversely, is potentially huge. Obama has, indeed, waved a red flag in front of congressional tea partiers, turning them into frothing lunatics who want to shut down the government and maybe even impeach him. This has already turned into a huge headache for John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, who really don’t want this to be the public face of the party. In addition, it’s quite possibly wrecked the Republican agenda for the next year, which is obviously just fine with Obama. And it’s likely to turn next year’s primary season into an anti-Hispanic free-for-all that does permanent damage to the GOP brand.
I have little feel for whether drum is right and how this will play out or how the Republicans will respond. In the short term, I think they will try to buy some time and say that they are going to hold off any action until the new Congress is sworn in. That will give them time to think of some response that will mollify their fired up base of angry supporters while not completely cutting their ties with the Latino community.