Fearing primary challenges that probably won’t come

Fearing primary challenges that probably won't come
Fearing primary challenges that probably won't come
Associated Press

Third Way, a group of centrist Democrats in the tradition of the DLC, made a curious suggestion this week on how best to deal with immigration reform in Congress: wait until mid-March 2014 to hold the vote in the House. And why then? Because, as Third Way sees it, House Republicans might be more reasonable after the filing deadlines for primary challenges has come and gone.

I’m not sold on the thesis, but I can appreciate the underlying point. There are very likely some House Republicans who would vote for a bipartisan reform bill, but they’re terrified of a backlash from the far-right, anti-immigrant wing of their party. GOP lawmakers can recite from memory the names of Republicans driven from office (or from the party) – Lugar, Specter, Bennett, Inglis, et al – for showing insufficient fealty to the right-wing cause, and they don’t want their names to end up on the list.

But is this a credible fear? Or more to the point, should House Republicans assume that a vote for a popular immigration bill will necessarily prompt a GOP primary challenge they’re likely to lose? John Stanton took a closer look and busts the myth.

Conservatives in Congress have been actively opposing immigration reform in recent months, citing a fear that well-funded primary challengers will take them on if they compromise on the issue – a line of reasoning that has crystalized into conventional wisdom in Washington.

But interviews with operatives, campaign aides, and activists from groups like the Club for Growth and Heritage Action, as well as a review of recent election data, suggests the likelihood of Republicans facing serious primary challenges is not only overstated but probably won’t have much of anything to do with immigration.

“We don’t care about immigration reform,” said Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller with a chuckle, explaining his organization remains solely focused on “economic issues … [and] pro-growth policies.”

It’s an important point. There are conservatives who hate immigration reform and would be furious with any congressional Republican who backs a bipartisan solution. There are also conservatives who are actively involved in organizing and financing primary campaigns against incumbent Republicans who occasionally fail to toe the line for the far-right movement.

But Stanton’s point seems to be that in this Venn diagram, we’re talking about two circles that do not overlap.

Of course, if House Republicans oppose immigration reform because they’re right-wing ideologues, and couldn’t care less about the prospect of a primary, it’s a moot point. But the message for House GOP lawmakers who are worried about the point at which an immigration vote and an intra-party primary challenge intersect, the point is obvious: this isn’t much of an excuse.

Republican Party

Fearing primary challenges that probably won't come