Skip to content
Subscriber Only

Why Republicans Aren't Scared by the Politics of Immigration

The GOP flirts with a shutdown—again.
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), second from left, stays quiet as he leaves the Senate chambers after passing a new stopgap funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security at the U.S. Capitol on February 27, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), second from left, stays quiet as he leaves the Senate chambers after passing a new stopgap funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security at the U.S. Capitol on February 27, 2015 in Washington, DC.

(Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)

For the third time in as many years, congressional Republicans find themselves threatening to shut down part of the federal government rather than compromise with the White House. The latest fight, over President Obama’s decision to stop the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from deporting millions of undocumented immigrants, has upset potential GOP presidential candidates, several of whom have made it a priority to attract Latino voters. In the run-up to Friday's theater in Congress, Senator Lindsey Graham implored his party not to shut down the government, adding that, as Republicans, “we'll get blamed.” Representative Peter King of New York said, “people think we're crazy.” Congress came two hours from a department shutdown before reaching an agreement. But it was only a stopgap measure, setting up a repeat performance next week. 

Graham's and King's comments echoed a plea made by Karl Rove, the party’s senior strategist, in the Wall Street Journal. “The argument has always been about the prudence of tactics, not about goals,” he wrote. But the same strong-arm tactics that Rove says are bad for the GOP’s chances of winning the White House in 2016 may be good for some politicians on the Hill. While the national electorate crucial to winning presidential elections is becoming younger and more diverse, the voter base of many congressional Republicans remains overwhelmingly old, white, and male.