After empty election, GOP would be smart to tackle immigration reform

Well, it’s finally here, Election Day 2014. The saddest, most meaningless election in years is almost, thankfully, over. The narrative is murky and confusing. Some have called it the “Seinfeld” election, since it’s been about nothing. The “October surprise” was hysteria over the Ebola outbreak that wasn’t. People are mad at the President and Congress, and they want change but have no idea what that looks like. Unlike in 2010, the reactionary Tea Party has had less of a role to play. Establishment Republicans have won the day in most states and are poised for a big night and may take control of the United States Senate for the first time since 2007.

That’s not because they have done anything right, though. In fact, they have done nothing but block and obfuscate, so this is not a victory based on merit. Instead, voter fatigue and political geography explain the shift in favor of the GOP. Obama’s low approval ratings have hampered Democrats in the messaging war and put the party on defense. The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll shows only 44 percent of Americans approve of the job Obama is doing. People are mad and scared with the country bouncing from crisis 
to crisis.

With all this being said, Democrats do seem to be slightly more energized than the average midterm cycle and African-Americans turned out to vote early in high numbers in states like Georgia and Florida, which feature competitive statewide contests. In the end though, Republicans will gain a large amount of seats in the Senate and will probably grow their majority in the House. Democrats have to defend too many seats in deep red states and are doing it with a few flawed candidates. That means divided government on a larger scale than we have seen since the Bush era. There is little reason to believe Republicans are going to want to do much of anything in terms of acting on a comprehensive legislative agenda, especially considering that the 2016 presidential election basically starts tomorrow.

But on a few key areas, the new GOP congress would be smart to work with Democrats if they want a chance to take the White House in 2016. The “easiest” potential political lift would be reforms to the nation’s criminal justice system. Democrats are excited about the opportunity to shrink the massive prison population in the country and some Republican leaders like Sen. Rand Paul seem open to the prospect since it involves reducing government spending. Another great area for bipartisan promise is immigration reform, which both parties have talked about for years without any real legislative movement. On a purely political level: Republicanism is a damaged brand among the vast majority of Hispanic Americans, with only “10 percent of Latinos say[ing] the GOP has more concern for Hispanics than Democrats,” according to a recent Pew Research Center poll. In other words, a Republican can’t be elected president again until serious inroads are made with Hispanic voters.

The challenge for Democrats is different but related. After years of big promises, the party may begin to lose the faith of Hispanics if it can’t deliver some type of reform measure. Of course, President Obama may act on his own to secure the long-term future of the so-called “Dreamers” who grew up in America and on other related issues including border security and amnesty. He should do that, but only after trying one last time to negotiate with Republican congressional leaders to see if a more comprehensive solution is possible. Then the test will be if Republicans are serious about bipartisan compromise. If they’re not, then they risk being out of executive power for years to come. Either way, the ball will soon be in their court.

Rich Robinson is a senior majoring in telecommunication and film. His column runs weekly.

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