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Divided GOP Grapples with What Comes Next on Immigration

Image: Guests watch President Barack Obama's White House speech on immigration in San Diego

Guests watch President Barack Obama's White House speech on immigration in San Diego, California November 20, 2014. Obama imposed the most sweeping immigration reform in a generation on Thursday, easing the threat of deportation for about 4.7 million undocumented immigrants and setting up a clash with Republicans. REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY IMMIGRATION POLITICS) SANDY HUFFAKER / Reuters

Both parties are surprisingly unified on how they’re framing the WAY Obama is going about addressing immigration reform with last night’s executive orders. With a handful of exceptions, Democrats are praising Obama’s leadership in the face of Republican obstruction. And Republicans have united under the banner of the “imperial presidency,” deriding Obama as being “lawless” and defying the Constitution and the will of the American people. But, when it comes to the big question of how (or whether) to address the nation’s undocumented population in the long run, it’s really just the GOP that’s sliced and diced into warring factions. With Republicans soon to control both houses of Congress, the onus is now on them to do something legislatively – which some of the party’s hopeful presidential candidates are openly acknowledging. (More on that later.) But it’s almost impossible to imagine what GOP-passed legislation might look like. Republicans couldn’t even agree on a political strategy to combat the president’s “constitutional overstep” – the thing that unites them. How will they find common ground on an issue as complex, messy and demographically fraught as immigration reform? There’s a danger here for the GOP if they get too focused on the process and ignore the policy challenge facing them. If they focus too much on tactics, it will quickly frustrate the public which clearly has less patience for gridlock than everyone in Washington realizes. Republicans would be in a very different place on this issue right now and on their criticism of the president’s action if they had ANY bill – even one that might not get presidential support -- to show the public. But they don’t have ANY bill… not a singular one that is border security first. Nothing.

Regrets, They’ve Had a Few

Is the White House regretting delaying the executive action until after the election? In hindsight, pushing back the immigration decision certainly didn’t save the swing-state Democrats who the administration hoped to save. Just ask Mark Pryor, Kay Hagan, Mark Udall – and probably Mary Landrieu. And now, Republicans are stuck in a holding pattern, with establishment types left wincing at every headline that risks further alienating Latinos in the meantime (see Bachmann, Michele). If Obama had made last night’s speech over the summer, it certainly couldn’t have made the midterm outcome much WORSE for Democrats, and it might have prolonged Republicans’ ownership of this thorny problem. And then there was the passion that the president showed in his speech at the end. Many Democrats are wondering this morning if the president showed that kind of passion pushing an unpopular tactic earlier, it might have at least changed some of the public’s perception of his leadership style.

But Democrats have a working class white voter problem, and this probably doesn’t help

Democrats may have backed the GOP into a corner in the long run on demographics, but the midterms show they’ve got a crosstabs problem of their own. Obama’s coalition of minorities, young people and college graduates has masked the party’s problem with working class whites in presidential years, but the off-year election laid bare just how underwater Democrats are with them. And these are a group of voters Democrats should be closer to on policy. Even before this immigration move, whiter Midwestern states (like Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin) had probably already gotten tougher for Dems in 2016. But with lower-income white voters already feeling like the economy’s not working for them, the idea of more work permits for undocumented immigrants could push them further towards the GOP. At least in the short term, Republicans are eyeing an advantage here.

Speaking of 2016

Hillary Clinton didn’t shy away from embracing the president’s action last night. The president’s maybe-heir-apparent tweeted her support almost immediately after the conclusion of the speech – something she’s rarely done regarding political decisions since stepping down from State. (A longer written statement blamed Congress for an “abdication of responsibility” on the issue.) The Republican side saw some nuance from the possible candidates who are perhaps most mindful of the risks of alienating Latinos. Jeb Bush, while writing that the president’s action “undermines” larger reform, also appeared to chide his own party for lack of action, saying “it is time for Republican leaders in Congress to act.” And Gang of Eight member Sen. Marco Rubio called the decision “unfair” but steered away from the “amnesty!” tone, urging Congressional action and hinting at long-term solutions for the undocumented.

The power of Fox News inside the GOP

Meanwhile, speaking of 2016, some interesting numbers to chew on from our latest NBC/WSJ poll. On the right, don’t underestimate the power of Fox News among the early potential Republican presidential candidates. The reason: Two of the four Republicans with the highest scores among Republicans in the NBC/WSJ poll either have or had Fox News contracts. The two -- Mike Huckabee (who has been out of politics since 2008) and Ben Carson (who has never run for office before). Indeed, Carson is BETTER-KNOWN among Republicans in our poll than Scott Walker and John Kasich. Here’s our list:

  • Huckabee 52%-8% (+44)
  • Rand Paul 48%-6% (+42)
  • Jeb Bush 44%-12% (+32)
  • Ben Carson 33%-2% (+31)
  • Marco Rubio 37%-7% (+30)
  • Scott Walker 29%-2% (+27)
  • Chris Christie 40%-19% (+21)
  • Rick Perry 33%-13% (+20)
  • John Kasich 23%-6% (+17)
  • Ted Cruz 27%-12% (+15)

Having a Fox contract is a HUGE boost to a political candidate trying to win over Republican voters. And speaking of, guess who re-appeared on Fox after losing his Senate race: Scott Brown.

Hillary = Barack

One of the emerging pieces of conventional wisdom is how Hillary Clinton -- because she’s white, because she’s a woman -- could outperform Obama among some key demographic groups. But what’s striking in our NBC/WSJ poll is how SIMILAR the two are; perhaps she will over perform with some older white voters but right now, there isn’t a lot of evidence of that.

  • Obama’s fav/unfav with whites: 38%-52%; Hillary’s fav/unfav: 36%-47%
  • Obama’s fav/unfav with Latinos: 50%-31%; Hillary’s 69%-20%
  • Obama’s fav/unfav with indies: 42%-41%; Hillary’s 35%-37%
  • Obama’s fav/unfav with men: 36%-51%; Hillary’s 37%-48%
  • Obama’s fav/unfav with women: 53%-36%; Hillary’s 50%-33%
  • Obama’s fav/unfav with white women: 45%-45%; Hillary’s 41%-38%

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