Brian Beutler, who is what passes for an intelligent thinker in today’s American left, wrote an article in TNR yesterday encouraging President Obama to immediately implement his plan to enact amnesty via executive fiat, instead of waiting until after the elections. More specifically, Beutler wrote that such a move would not only be good policy, but also good politics. The sole basis for this assertion seems to be that Beutler thinks that Republicans are protesting a bit too much:
It’s more than that, though. Obviously, Democrats running in states like Arkansas and North Carolina don’t want to inject a new and divisive issue into their campaigns. They’ve said as much. But the truth is, nobody really knows how the politics of a big new deferred-action program will shake out, because it’ll be a novel program. Our best heuristic is to watch how people with a political stake in Obama’s decision react when asked about it, and draw inferences.
And the truth is that Republicans sound much more spooked than Democrats.
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If Republicans genuinely believed that Obama would regret announcing deportation relief in September rather than in December or January, they wouldn’t tell him. Why interrupt an opponent when he’s making an error?
Which is why I think the political drawbacks of immediate action are overstated.
I guess this isn’t a facially implausible interpretation of the politics of this issue, if you assume that politicians are ever capable of not pointing out when their opponent is making a mistake, even for strategic reasons. Politicians simply do not operate in the way Beutler imagines. It is implausible to suggest that Republicans would go silent for a full month on this issue waiting for Obama to pull the trigger only then to explode when he did so. For one thing, they would forfeit their moral authority to criticize Obama for the move after the fact if they did not publicly voice their opposition to it before the fact. For another, press coverage is like oxygen to elected politicians, and the best way to get it is through generated conflict.
More importantly, though, Beutler ignores that polling on this issue has conclusively shown that Obama’s plan to implement amnesty by executive order is wildly, incredibly unpopular, including within the Democrat party:
President Obama’s push to unilaterally enact changes to the nation’s immigration policies is running into fierce opposition from the public, including a majority of his own party.
According to the latest IBD/TIPP poll, 73% of the public say Obama should work with Congress on reforms. Just 22% say he should “sidestep Congress and act on his own using executive orders” — something the president has repeatedly pledged to do.
Among independents, 78% say Obama should work with Congress, with only 19% saying he should go it alone. Even among Democrats, only 39% say Obama should act unilaterally, while 54% say he should work with Congress.
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So-called blue states that voted for Obama are also more likely to want him to work with Congress to get immigration reform done than are red states (74% to 72%).
When asked more specifically about an executive order to “slow deportation of undocumented immigrants by providing them with legal protection and work permits,” 63% of all those polled say they oppose Obama’s issuing such an order, with a majority of Republicans and independents strongly opposed. Just 34% of the public backs that move, though that includes 60% of Democrats.
And, despite Obama’s push for comprehensive reform, the poll finds public support has withered. It’s 48% now, compared with 54% last year. On the other hand, support for securing the border first has climbed from 39% to 47%.
Let us be honest. Republicans over the last two years have not exactly covered themselves in glory in the mind of the public any more than Obama has. But many of them are going to ride to election this year based solely on the widespread feeling on behalf of the public that Obama’s policies and actions need to be checked by someone. This is, in fact, the defining dynamic of the 2014 elections. Obama’s plan to slow deportations (and subsequently declare amnesty via executive order) unilaterally gives Republican candidates another powerful arrow in their quiver, given that this policy in general is broadly unpopular with Republicans and Independents and would not even serve to motivate his party’s base.
One side of this particular debate is engaging in PsyOps, but it isn’t the Republicans in Congress; it’s those pundits on the left who want to squeeze as many of their favored policy initiatives as they can out of an increasingly impotent, unpopular, and term-limited President. Republicans, on the other hand, are praying that Obama listens to Beutler and pulls the trigger before the election.