Ross Douthat, a columnist for the NY Times, is not someone people usually refer to as part of the Republican “base.”

Stephen Colbert describes him as the “conservative columnist at the NY Times, which also qualifies him to be the liberal columnist for the NY Post.”

But he’s with the base when it comes to Republican immigration “principles” released on Friday:

THE debate over immigration reform, rekindled last week by House Republican leaders, bears a superficial resemblance to last fall’s debate over the government shutdown.

Again, you have establishment Republicans transparently eager to cut a deal with the White House and a populist wing that doesn’t want to let them do it. Again, you have Republican business groups and donors wringing their hands over the intransigence of the base, while talk-radio hosts and right-wing bloggers warn against an imminent inside-the-Beltway sellout. Again, you have a bill that could pass the House tomorrow — but only if John Boehner was willing to live with having mostly Democrats voting for it.

Except there’s one big difference: This time, the populists are right.

They’re right about the policy, which remains a mess in every new compromise that’s floated — offering “solutions” that are unlikely to be permanent, enforcement provisions that probably won’t take effect, and favoring special interests, right and left, over the interests of the citizenry at large.

Among the many problems, any form of legalization prior to enforcement is folly. And therein lies the problem. Obama will not sign a meaningful “enforcement first” bill, so either Republicans repeat the mistakes of the past, or the “principles” go nowhere while disrupting Republicans focus for 2014.

Greg Sargent of WaPo, reliable conduit of Democratic thinking, notes that Republicans don’t trust Obama to enforce the law, so will impose preconditions that will be unacceptable to Obama:

Paul Ryan’s interview on ABC yesterday offers a clue on how GOP leaders will try to navigate around these objections. And in the process it neatly illustrates the central unknowns about House Republican thinking on the issue, the resolution of which will decide whether reform happens or dies. Here’s the key quote:

“Here’s the issue that all Republicans agree on — we don’t trust the president to enforce the law. So if you actually look at the standards that the Republican leadership put out, which is security first, first we have to secure the border, have interior enforcement, which is a worker verification system, a visa tracking program. Those things have to be in law, in practice and independently verified before the rest of the law can occur. So it’s a security force first, non-amnesty approach.”

Asked if Republicans could embrace reform Obama could sign, Ryan said: “That is clearly in doubt. It depends on whether they’re willing to actually secure the border.”

* * *

Either Ryan knows he must say this to get mainstream conservatives to even listen to him about immigration — it’s a way to reassure them of his best intentions even as GOP leaders seriously grapple with how to get to some form of legalization. (Byron York floats a version of this theory here.) Or, if Republicans decide they can’t get to that point, it will become the excuse for killing reform: Obama can’t be trusted to enforce the law – executive orders Obamacare Benghazi etc. etc. — so we can’t embrace any form of legalization, until all of our security metrics are met.

Which gets back to the question the core problem — Republicans never can jump high enough on immigration amnesty to satisfy Democrats without a complete capitulation.

So why bother now of all times?


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