It’s hard to think of an official political-party document more thoroughly repudiated by its intended audience than the March 2013 “Growth & Opportunity Project” of the Republican National Committee, better known as the “2012 autopsy report.” Yes, there were a host of recommendations for avoiding Mitt Romney’s fate included in the report, some that have been taken to heart involving campaign infrastructure and communications. But at the time it was abundantly clear the leadership of the GOP wanted to shake its activists and elected officials and get it through their thick skulls that remaining a party of white identity politics was a death trap given prevailing demographic trends.
And the single policy recommendation made in the whole report was underlined with bright flashing pointers:
We are not a policy committee, but among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all.
A couple of months later, the Senate Judiciary Committee reported the so-called “Gang of Eight” reform bill, with Senator Marco Rubio way out in front on it. And in June 2013, the full Senate passed the bill, a high-water mark for immigration reform that seems astounding today.
This additional language from the report is also worth remembering given the mood among Republicans less than three years later:
If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence.
That sentence was a specific repudiation of Mitt Romney’s position on immigration. At present it seems a relatively moderate option for a party whose presidential field is presently led by two advocates of forced deportation, being chased by, among others, a repentant Marco Rubio, who admits now he grievously misjudged public opinion in favoring a path to citizenship for the undocumented.
So it’s appropriate that the “autopsy report” itself be formally buried, and National Review’s Jim Geraghty does the honors, arguing that it “proved spectacularly wrong in predicting what the political environment would look like at the end of President Obama’s second term.”
The Republican base may or may not be on board with the idea of deporting every last illegal immigrant, but there exists a broad consensus that we must make our southern border as impenetrable as possible and that illegal immigrants should face significant consequences for breaking the law. While there are very few who think legal immigration should cease entirely, 67 percent of Republicans (and 49 percent of all Americans) think legal immigration should be reduced from current levels.
Geraghty goes on to speculate that had House Republicans taken the advice of the “autopsy report” and sent something like the Gang of Eight bill to Obama for his signature, the anti-Establishment rebellion we are witnessing in the GOP ranks this year might have arrived in the 2014 down-ballot primaries:
Instead of seeing historic wins in 2014, the party probably would have ripped itself apart, as immigration restrictionists mounted furious primary challenges to the Republicans who had defied their wishes.
I don’t know about that; a lot of other winds were blowing in the GOP’s direction in 2014, including now-habitual pro-Republican midterm turnout patterns and the near-universal incidence of White House losses, often enormous, in second-term midterms. It’s also entirely possible, given the 2014 Republican Establishment strategy of defeating tea-party insurgents by surrendering to them on policy, that had immigration reform passed, its very enablers would have quickly condemned their own work and escaped the consequences, just as Rubio is trying to do now.
But if the GOP again loses in 2016, it’s a good bet that party poo-bahs will not be so fast to condemn excessive conservatism or insufficient tolerance as the problem. Republicans just don’t want to hear that.