In 1996, when a surge in illegal immigration collided with the overheated politics of a presidential election, Republicans demanded a strict crackdown.
They passed a measure in the House that would have allowed states to bar children who were in the country illegally from public schools. Senator Bob Dole, Republican of Kansas, the party’s nominee for president, called for limiting social services to immigrants in the country illegally. Patrick J. Buchanan, one of Mr. Dole’s rivals, had promised to build an electric fence along the border with Mexico.
When Mr. Dole lost to Bill Clinton that year, he received just 21 percent of the Hispanic vote — a record low for a Republican nominee — and the party has never really recovered, even as the Hispanic vote has come to represent 10 percent of the presidential electorate, doubling from 1996.
Today, as a wave of unaccompanied minors fleeing Central America poses a new crisis for Congress and the White House, Republicans are struggling to calibrate a response that is both tough and humane, mindful of the need to reconcile their freighted history with Hispanic voters and the passions of a conservative base that sees any easing of immigration rules as heresy.
Pretty thin stuff. Of course, such a story only works if you can find a Republican willing to trash his own party and constituents in order to get some good ink in New York City. Steve Stockman has been defeated and the primary is over, so Senator John Cornyn is stop pretending he cares about Texas.
“We can’t elect another Republican president in 2016 who gets 27 percent of the Hispanic vote,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, referring to the percentage Mitt Romney won in 2012.
Mr. Cornyn voted against the broad immigration overhaul last year but introduced a compromise measure this week with a Texas Democrat from the House, Representative Henry Cuellar, that would speed the deportation of some children while allowing those who request asylum to stay as they await a hearing.
Noting the demographic shifts in his own state — where he observed, “It’s not just people that look like me” — Mr. Cornyn added: “This is a challenge for the country, and we need to solve it. And we have a political imperative as Republicans to deal with this or else we will find ourselves in a permanent minority status.”
[For the G.O.P., Fine Line Seen on Migration, by Jeremy W. Peters, New York Times, by July 18, 2014]
Of course, left unsaid is why a majority Hispanic Texas would vote Republican regardless of what happens on immigration. Amnesty would not be enough — the GOP would also have to abandon any pretense of being a "limited government" party and simply outbid the Democrats on entitlements.
But the point is not to provide analysis that makes sense. The point is to get Republicans to think they have something to gain by reversing the verdict of the Texas War of Independence. And John Cornyn is happy to help — after all, the primary's over. What does he care?