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GOP confronts 'angry white guy' problem by rethinking immigration amnesty

The embrace by high-profile Republicans of immigration reform cuts deeply into long-time Republican class and identity politics that’s focused in the past few years on illegal immigration.

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Some commentators argue the GOP can cede the amnesty issue and still remain united as a party – especially if amnesty is combined with strong border control policy.

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“There’s no need for radical change,” wrote Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer. “The other party thinks it owns the demographic future – counter that in one stroke by fixing the Latino problem. Do not, however, abandon the party’s philosophical anchor.”

But for many, including many of those in the GOP’s powerful tea party wing, acquiescing to amnesty would be a bridge too far, especially after so much political capital has been spent in fomenting anger and concern over illegal immigration and the porous southern border – and as over 20 million Americans are currently unemployed or underemployed.

Most immediately, the debate is around whether major immigration reform, including becoming the party of amnesty, will even work, or whether most Hispanics have already become dyed-in-the-wool Democrats. The argument is that Republican can’t compete with “free stuff” that minorities, including illegal immigrants, have come to expect from Democrats.

“I think pandering is the worst way to respond, it'd be a huge mistake and amnesty is a terrible decision, a terrible bill,” Bay Buchanan, a Romney surrogate and the sister of former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, told The Hill. “If leadership attempts to move in this direction there will be an internal battle on this, it'll be very vocal and it'll be very national.”

While Mitt Romney created outreach to Hispanics, he suggested no bold legislative initiatives, leaving Obama an opening to enact the so-called “Dream Act Lite” program by executive order. It allows young illegal immigrants with a record of achievement to stay in the country without fear of deportation.

Going over the election post-mortem, chastened conservatives saw that Romney likely missed a major opportunity with the Hispanic vote, suggesting that the candidate’s simple economic message and appeal to traditional values wasn’t enough to overcome suspicions wrought by Republican state legislatures – especially in the South and West – that have recently enacted their own immigration control laws, ostensibly intended to chase illegal immigrants out of those states.

As a broader bid for electoral gains, however, a strategy with xenophobia at its roots showed its limits on Tuesday.

“I think you control the border first," said Fox News host Sean Hannity. "You create a pathway for those people that are here – you don’t say ‘you’ve got to go home.’ And that is a position that I’ve evolved on. Because, you know what, it’s got to be resolved."

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