A little more than eight months out from the November elections, the Republican Party has a decent shot to retake the Senate. Democrats have more territory to defend and are weighted down by the bum economy and an unpopular president, giving Republicans a slight edge in generic balloting.
So Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) may be right in saying, as he did Thursday morning, that 2014 is "poised to be a very, very strong Republican year." Yet Cruz's electoral prognosticating got a bit dodgy when he turned to immigration, warning that the GOP would risk totally blowing it in the midterms if it embraced immigration reform this year.
"If the House went down the road of passing a massive amnesty program, that could screw up the election," Cruz said. "I think the odds of Harry Reid remaining the majority leader would jump tenfold, which is why Harry Reid and the White House are begging Republicans please go into the briar patch."
It's an argument border hawks and nervous Republicans often trot out to defend their opposition to immigration reform: moving forward on the issue will piss off the party base, turn off some independents, and ensure electoral defeat. But in reality, polls routinely find huge, bipartisan support for reform. Which is to say that the GOP could actually benefit were it to back immigration reform now, because doing so could help it win over new voters while simultaneously defusing a potential wedge issue.
Significant majorities of Democrats (81 percent), Independents (74 percent), and, yes, Republicans (64 percent) all support giving undocumented immigrants some pathway to legal status, according to a Pew survey released Thursday.
Moreover, though Americans in general are split over whether passing immigration reform this year is "extremely or very important," one key demographic overwhelmingly feels that way: Hispanics.
Republicans, you may have heard, have a problem courting minority voters. And though the point has been belabored, it's worth noting once more that passing immigration reform could immediately help the party rectify that problem.
What Cruz is really getting at is that the GOP shouldn't get embroiled in a messy intra-party fight during election season. With sharp divisions among its members on immigration, addressing the issue now would risk worsening the party's ongoing civil war, sparking a backlash from the same conservative groups that have vowed to boot "turncoat" establishment candidates who refused to hold the debt ceiling hostage.
Leaving aside Cruz's casual admission that political gamesmanship is more important than actually legislating, his desire to punt immigration to 2015 is also somewhat self-serving. If immigration reform were to pass this year, it would deprive Cruz of a stick to beat more moderate candidates with in his presumed 2016 White House bid.
Both parties have gone into full do-nothing lockdown mode in hopes of avoiding any unforced errors before November. But in sitting pat on immigration, the GOP may actually be making just such an error, and missing out on a prime opportunity to boost its prospects at the polls — both in 2014 and beyond.