In a democratic system the cure for extremism is delivered through the ballot box. Parties that step too far away from the mainstream start to lose elections. Eventually a faction within the party decides that they would rather have power than continue to plug extreme policies that the electorate rejects, and the party moderates.
Or at least that is the theory.
There are some forms of extremism that the electorate are not willing to forgive. The long term consequence of Nixon’s ‘Southern strategy’ of courting white supporters of segregation is that more than nine out of ten black voters favor the Democrats over the party of Lincoln. The long term consequence of California Governor Pete Wilson’s Latino bashing prop 187 was to turn Ronald Reagan’s home state solid blue.
It isn’t hard to see the reason for the sudden GOP about face on immigration. After ten years of increasingly bigoted anti-Latino rhetoric, the Republican party has suddenly realized that they are alienating 16% of the US population that is turning into a solid Democratic voting bloc.
Voters can (sadly) forgive and forget the ludicrous Romney/Ryan budget for the 0.01% easily enough. It takes a lot more to erase the memory of being targeted by opportunist politicians pandering to bigots who hate you.
The six largest states add up to 191 out of the 270 electoral college votes needed to win the White House. Only one, Texas, voted for McCain or Romney. Latinos are 38% of the population of Texas. If Texan Latinos voted in the same way that African Americans, or California Latinos, do, Texas would be a blue state. And it is not merely ‘difficult’ for a Republican to win the White House without winning Texas, it is next to impossible.
The Republican party’s born-again embrace of immigration reform is an effort by the more rational, and scared, wing of the party to save itself. The question remains as to whether Republicans have so demonized Latinos, and so turned off Latino voters in the process, that the damage done is beyond repair.
Which is how the process is supposed to work. But then there is the ultra wing of the GOP that reads the same demographic trends and sees the GOP electoral position becoming poisoned and come to a very different conclusion: The only way to win is to change the rules of the game with voter suppression schemes like Rick Scott’s scheme that caused 9 hour waits to vote in Florida. That was not enough in 2012. Which leaves rigging the electoral college so that GOP states remain winner takes all and Democratic states award most of their electoral college votes to the GOP.
The launch of immigration reform may force the GOP to put their voter suppression and vote rigging schemes back in the closet for a while. But not for very long.