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July 16, 2013 1:39 PM Killing Immigration Reform Doesn’t Look Like Suicide To Tom Cotton

By Ed Kilgore

Beneath all the talk about the long-term interests of the Republican Party in this or that demographic and the implications for this or that position on immigration reform is a simple fact that often eludes notice: for a lot of GOP electeds, it’s a no-brainer to oppose the Senate bill. It’s obviously true of House members in heavily Republican and honkified districts where the only threat to re-election is to incur the wrath of “the base” and/or one of the national ideological commissars ever-ready to finance a primary challenge. But even among statewide candidates, and even among nationally prominent “rising stars,” there’s not much percentage in being too far to the left of Steve King on the subject.

As an example, check out Caitlin Huey-Burns’ piece at RCP on everybody’s favorite “rising star,” Rep. Tom Cotton of Arkansas. A lot of smart money is already assuming Cotton will take out Sen. Mark Pryor next year, even though Cotton hasn’t indicated he’s running just yet. He’s the poster boy for red-blooded “constitutional conservatism” of a particularly rigid and nihilistic type—but also for the neocon military aggressiveness that separates some Tea Party heroes from Paulist non-inteventionism.

But it seems Cotton is spending the bulk of his time lately not agitating for a debt default or frothing for war, but racing around Washington and Arkansas voicing his opposition to the Senate’s immigration bill:

Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton says he has written to his congressional representatives only once in his lifetime: In May 2007, the Iraq War vet contacted Sens. Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln, both Democrats, and asked them to “oppose the amnesty bill” that was before lawmakers….
The Republican freshman from his state’s 4th Congressional District challenged conference leaders at a closed-door strategy meeting last week, then penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal articulating the House GOP’s opposition to the Senate’s “enforcement later” approach, and has appeared on several television and radio shows to make the conservative case on immigration. And lately, that case comes down to this: When it comes to immigration reform, it’s House legislation or nothing at all.

This isn’t just an express of Cotton’s reliably right-wing ideology. It represents a political opportunity. Pryor voted for the Senate bill, and Cotton thinks that will go over terribly with Arkansans once they all know about it:

Heading into the conference meeting last week, Cotton said he received 1,800 letters and phone calls from people in his district. Only 12 of the correspondents backed the Senate immigration bill, and the rest reflected opinions similar to what Cotton himself expressed to his representatives in 2007.

So this raises a question: if Republican “elites” indeed consider passing immigration reform (whether or not Republicans in Congress actually vote for it) a matter of survival for their party, why is Tom Cotton almost universally the apple of their eyes? I mean, he’s not just opposing the Senate bill; according to Huey-Burns, he’s burning the midnight oil trying to block any conceivable course of action that could lead to enactment of a “path to citizenship.”

It’s a reminder that much of what the CW holds about “Republican elites” needs to be questioned or at least taken with a shaker of salt. Whatever Beltway pundits believe about the national political picture, it looks very different from Tom Cotton’s perspective. And I’d say it’s obvious he’ll have as much to say about the future of the GOP as any “party strategist” offering blind quotes to Politico.

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.

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