Political Animal


June 19, 2012 10:40 AM DREAM Lite Reaction

By Ed Kilgore

Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics (a conservative numbers-cruncher whom I greatly respect) says he doesn’t quite get Obama’s DREAM Lite gambit last week. After all, only three swing states have “significant” (which he defines as over 10%) Hispanic populations, and one of those is Cuban-heavy Florida, so we’re really just talking Nevada and Colorado, who only have 15 lousy EVs, and Obama’s real problem is with white voters who don’t like liberalized immigration policies.

Trende’s depiction of DREAM Lite as at best a wash for Obama may be more than a little off, per the first national poll measuring reaction, from Bloomberg:

Sixty-four percent of likely voters surveyed after Obama’s June 15 announcement said they agreed with the policy, while 30 percent said they disagreed. Independents backed the decision by better than a two-to-one margin.

Only self-identified Republicans bucked the trend, opposing DREAM Lite by a 36-56 margin.

Getting back to Trende’s dismissal of the issue, his 10% Hispanic voter threshold for considering these voters “significant” in swing states is questionable. For example: 5% of Virginia voters in 2008 were Hispanic; the percentage may well have gone up since then. It’s a state most analysts think Romney must win. If it’s very close, then yes, a swing or turnout variation among Virginia Hispanics could matter. As for Florida, yes, Cuban-Americans and Puerto Ricans, two groups not terribly interested in the immigration issue, make up an estimated 60% of the state’s Hispanic eligible voters. But of the rest, a growing percentage are from South or Central America or Mexico. Again, if Florida’s close, the issue could matter a great deal.

As for the downside of Obama’s DREAM Lite gambit—I don’t much see it. He was already on record supporting the full DREAM Act; all his action last week did was to preempt what was about to become the Republican alternative. As the Bloomberg poll shows, opposition is concentrated among voters Obama’s not getting anyway.

I’m not saying Obama’s action was necessarily a game-changer. But on the strategic chessboard, it undoubtedly checked a Republican move to chip into a key swing constituency where Obama was vulnerable, at what seems to be an acceptably low cost or risk. As for the impact on swing states, as always, it depends on how close things get. All together now: a vote’s a vote!

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • stormskies on June 19, 2012 10:49 AM:

    Of course it is a game changer. Even the delusional Repiglicans admit that unless buffoon Romney get's a minimum of 40% of the Hispanic vote, all other factors considered, he simply can not win the popular vote.

    And that just isn't going to happen.

  • emeris on June 19, 2012 10:52 AM:

    This misses the point that this was the right thing to do for policy reasons. Getting policy right is the reason we do politics, not the other way around.

  • Jay of Scarsdale on June 19, 2012 10:56 AM:

    It's a mistake to assume that only Hispanics would personally care about President Obama's directive on illegal immigrants. There are plenty of Irish Americans with an illegal in the extended family somewhere. And Italian families, and Chinese, and Korean, and Canadian and British and lots of others. They now all have a stake in seeing that Obama is re-elected.

  • boatboy_srq on June 19, 2012 11:03 AM:

    [A]ll his action last week did was to preempt what was about to become the Republican alternative.

    More than this, it provided at least some genuine policy change in contrast to the cheap symbolic gesture without policy substance that God's Own Party was preparing.

    There's no DREAM in the GOP these days: one look at what killed Perry's campaign is proof enough of that (hint: it wasn't his crazy-making, or his "no-I'm-not-actually-intoxicated" town hall appearances). Any proposal they would have made would have either been a toothless publicity grab or a quick victim of Teadist other-bashing. While they weren't given a chance to illustrate this completely, their immediate abandonment of any immigration-related adjustment in the wake of Obama's announcement speaks as loudly as any counter-proposal they could have produced.

  • Peter C on June 19, 2012 11:09 AM:

    Sorry to be pollyannish, but perhaps Obama did it because it was the right thing to do? That's how I look at his support for same-sex marriages earlier. He said it because it was the right thing to say. This is the same.

    We don't have to go out of our way to track down and punish the children of undocumented people. On Friday, Sherrif Arpiao arrested a 6-year-old girl. He said didn't want her or her family to feel 'safe'. This is who they are.

    Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) said yesterday that 16-year-olds should be expected to refuse to accompany their parents if it means being undocumented. Here, we don't trust children under 21 with alcohol, but we should expect a 16-year-old to defy his parents and live alone in poverty in a 3rd-world country?

    I want Obama to continue to do the right thing. I also want him to highlight the mean-spiritedness of the Republican party. If that loses votes among the overly fearful, too bad.

    There is a difference between who we are and who they are. We don't win elections by suppressing those differences because of precise calculations about demographics and electoral votes. The Republicans turn to the hard right will cost them with everyday citizens, who, by and large, are not mean-spirited.

  • T2 on June 19, 2012 11:09 AM:

    it is a good, sensible thing. But not a game changer. Face it, Obama had the Hispanic vote wrapped up, and now that is certain. All it means is the GOP doesn't have to put much energy into the Hispanic vote anymore ( they don't like Hispanics anyway, thats easy to see) because there is no use in contesting it now.

  • Ron Byers on June 19, 2012 11:45 AM:

    There is a technical term for Sean Trende's position. It is called "whistling past a graveyard." He knows it is a net loser for the Republicans. There is nothing he can do about it except pretend it isn't important.

    Presidents lead. Candidates talk. Action trumps talk. Obama cut Rubio and with him Romney off at the knees.

  • Mimikatz on June 19, 2012 12:01 PM:

    Greg Sargeant has a bit more on the poll numbers on Obama's initiative. Among Indies 66%approve, 26% don't but among Republicans it is 36% approve and 56% don't.

    Given that this was supposed to be the GOP proposal via Rubio, this highlights I think what really divides independents from GOPsters. The former aren't reflexively Obama haters but the GOPsters are. So the classic wedge issue is something that indies can like on the merits (because it is the right thing to do) but which GOPers have to oppose the minute Obama proposes. All the better if it preempts some less reactionary faction of the GOP, making the party seem extreme, unfair and heartless. This is actually how I expected Obama to govern--splitting the extreme GOP off from the more sensible center. The problem is that on many issues, like jobs, taxes and the economy, the GOP is so extreme that when he tried to find common ground he went way too far to the right, but now with contraception, marriage equality and Dreamers, he is using the strategy perfectly. Expect more of this over the summer.

  • ShadeTail on June 19, 2012 12:28 PM:

    There is a rather obvious rebuttal to Sean Trend's complaining about this: he's stupid to be focusing just on Latinos. Sure, this is a very important issue to them, but there are others. Has everyone forgotten the big story of the Filipino journalist, Jose Vargas? It was only a year ago, after all.


    This affects everyone in one way or another. It's not just Latinos who are concerned about this, and who think the President has done the right thing.

  • tcinaz on June 19, 2012 12:32 PM:

    I agree with comments about this being the right thing to do, and suggesting that is reason enough for Obama to have made this move. But I also suspect a serious political motive here, which also makes much sense and has little to do with actual Latino voters. They will, of course, be included in the final outcome which is a net positive but not the real target. I think the target of this move, as with the announcement on gay marriage, is progressives in general, who have often criticized the President for being too accommodating to conservatives on issues like Guantanamo, and single-payer health care. In these to positions, Obama has reclaimed some progressive luster at little expense of political capital, making both astute political moves that have the benefit of also being the right thing to do. Opposing these moves puts Republicans on the wrong side of both history and a huge majority of the electorate. But what else can they do, when their whole raison d'existence is to reflexively oppose anything Obama favors.

  • Blue Girl on June 19, 2012 12:35 PM:

    I can tell you one reason why so many people see it favorably. Those of us in the generation that raised the millenials pretty much all know a kid who came here at 2, is the only non-citizen sibling of a family of kids who went to school with our kids, played sports, hung out at the mall, consistently made the honor roll and was every bit as typical an American teenager as all their friends. Right up until they graduated from high school. I realize the plural of anecdote isn' t data, but it was an excited topic of conversation on my Facebook timeline among other parents of the kids my kids went to school with, and they're pretty typical of Catholic schooling parents. I know it moved some votes among folks I know who had been buying into the religious freedom propaganda the Bishops have been catapulting.

  • Robert on June 19, 2012 12:42 PM:

    Jay of Scarsdale is on the right track here but I would go further: many voters who are not Latino not only have family and friends people who will be helped by this -including the children of their Latino neighbors who do go to school with their kids as the president said- but they also will be impressed by Obama courageously doing the right thing. Right wingers won't ever understand this because 'doing the right thing' is not in their lexicon.

  • CharlieM on June 19, 2012 1:04 PM:


    Perhaps it is "a wash". Perhaps there is no political downside. Perhaps it is nothing but pure political calculation.

    But, just occasionally, I want to believe (as others here have expressed) that someone does something because it's "the right thing to do".
    I'm going to indulge myself and believe that his primary motivation was (just as the abolishment of DADT and his recent endorsement of same-sex marriage) that it was the right thing to do.

  • bluestatedon on June 19, 2012 1:10 PM:

    I've raised this point on other threads here at WM, but I'm going to keep doing so until a national Democrat (I've given up on alleged "journalists") forces Republicans to publicly either endorse or repudiate this statement, and the man who uttered it:

    "I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally."

    The speaker was the sainted President Ronald Reagan, who made the comment during a 1984 debate with Walter Mondale.

  • Andy Olsen on June 19, 2012 2:10 PM:

    What is so hard to understand? This immigration move, by itself, will not win any given state. However it will help to cleave off an ethnic vote for this and future elections. And while it may only help with a few percent on the vote totals for a number of states, that could be the winning margin.

  • Ri on June 19, 2012 2:12 PM:

    Sean Trende is not completely delusional like some prognosticators on the right, but he still tries to spin every political development as bad for Obama. The rightwing complaint will always be that Obama has alienated Republican voters.

  • N.Wells on June 19, 2012 3:02 PM:

    Although I think it was the right thing to do and will overall benefit Obama's chances for re-election, I don't think it can be safely assumed that immigrants will overwhelmingly favor this form of amnesty. People who immigrate legally jump through a lot of annoying legal hoops and endure ridiculously long waits, leading at least some that I know to disfavor rewarding anyone they regard as breaking the rules or jumping the queue (regardless of how unfair it is to apply that reasoning to children who were brought along in tow by their parents).