The Democratic Party's general approach to immigration policy is pretty straightforward: create a legal process through which millions of undocumented immigrants already in the United States can become legal citizens, while taking concrete steps to improve border security. The Republican Party's position on immigration is ... less clear.
GOP officials are divided, confused, and overwhelmed by uncertainty. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was asked over the weekend for his personal opinion on a pathway to citizenship, and the Republican leader was so overwhelmed by weakness and fear that he refused to give an answer.
This in turn creates a vacuum within the Republican Party, which is filled by folks like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).
For those who can't watch clips online, here's what the GOP lawmaker told a right-wing website about Dream Act kids:
"There are kids that were brought into this country by their parents unknowing they were breaking the law. And they will say to me and others who defend the rule of law, 'We have to do something about the 11 million. Some of them are valedictorians.' Well, my answer to that is ... it's true in some cases, but they aren't all valedictorians. They weren't all brought in by their parents. For every one who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act."
In case facts still matter, King's assessment isn't even close to being accurate.
But even if we put that aside, King's offensiveness reinforce a larger dynamic in Republican politics that party leaders are eventually going to have to address.
To be sure, House GOP leaders eventually got around to criticizing King's comments last night, just as they did in March when another House Republican lawmaker used the "wetbacks" slur.
But soon after, King doubled down on his remarks, appearing on an Iowa radio show to say, "It's not something that I'm making up. This is real."
And while King keeps talking, and party leaders keep wringing their hands, it's worth appreciating the political circumstances that have brought us to this point. Note, for example, that the right-wing Iowan may come across as a racist buffoon that the American mainstream finds repulsive, but at this point, he's winning -- King has been fighting to kill comprehensive immigration reform, and by all appearances, House Republican leaders intend to hand him and his allies the outcome they prefer.
In other words, as ridiculous as Steve King appears, he and his kooky friends are shaping the House Republican caucus' position on immigration policy, largely because Boehner and his friends are too inept to lead.
What's more, the dynamic is getting worse, not better. As Jon Chait explained back in April, "A drawn-out immigration debate commanding center stage will simply create more opportunities for conservative Republicans to say offensive things about Latinos. And make no doubt: however diligently their consultants coach them not to, they will say offensive things about Latinos."
That was nearly four months ago, and Chait's prediction is holding up quite well.
If Boehner wants to make this nightmare go away, the Speaker is going to have to try to pass immigration reform. Unfortunately for his party, the weight falls on Boehner's shoulders, and he may not be up to the task.