Andres Oppenheimer

Andres Oppenheimer: Republicans may win Tuesday, and lose in 2016

Here’s the paradox of Tuesday’s midterm elections: Republicans could win control of both houses of Congress, but they may elect a new crop of Tea Party anti-immigration zealots who will further alienate Hispanic voters and make it almost certain that their party loses the 2016 presidential elections.

According to most polls, the Republican Party — emboldened by its claims that the Obama administration failed to anticipate the Islamic State and Ebola crises — is likely to increase its current majority in the House of Representatives, and may take control of the Senate.

In the Senate, Republicans need a net gain of six seats to win a majority, and they already have three where polls show that they are likely to win comfortably. In the House, Republicans are expected to expand their current majority by eight to 10 seats, polls show.

It’s not unusual for the opposition party to win U.S. midterm elections, especially during a president’s second term. Almost always, opponents are more energized about voting than government supporters at this stage, and both Hispanics and African Americans — who vote heavily Democrat — are expected to turn out in low rates on Tuesday.

But Republicans may shoot themselves in the foot. An Oct.29 story in The Washington Post, titled “Tea party conservatives likely to win more House seats,” cited polls showing that six to eight Tea Party-supported Republicans are likely to replace more moderate legislators from their own party who are retiring.

This would mean that Republican House leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, who has already been unable to keep right-wing Republicans in the House from antagonizing Hispanic voters with draconian anti-immigration bills, will find it even harder to instill some moderation among his party’s legislative bloc.

Anti-immigration House Republicans have blocked a comprehensive immigration reform bill that was approved by the Senate last year, despite the fact that key Republicans such as former President George W. Bush and likely Republican hopeful Jeb Bush had supported it.

(Yes, I know, anti-immigration crusaders will send me angry emails claiming that they are not “anti-immigration,” but only “anti-illegal immigration.” Baloney. They have consistently opposed any reasonable measure to both secure the border and legalize hard-working undocumented immigrants.)

“If the Republicans take both Houses, they will pass the harshest immigration enforcement measures since they tried to turn undocumented immigrants into felons in 2005,” says Frank Sharry, head of the America’s Voice pro-immigration advocacy group. “They will try to stop any executive action that President Obama takes in order to satisfy their anti-immigrant base.”

One could argue that Republicans who understand that their party can’t win the 2016 presidential election without increasing its meager share of the Hispanic vote — such as Jeb Bush, or Republican Congress members Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart — will move their party toward moderation on immigration issues after Tuesday’s vote.

But that logic failed in 2012, when many of us rightly predicted that Mitt Romney would be defeated because of his “self-deportation” immigration rhetoric, which often smacked of being anti-Hispanic. Romney’s fears of antagonizing his party’s right wing prevailed over his desire to win over Latino voters, which may happen again over the next two years.

“Tea Party Republicans hate Obama more than they care about positioning the Republican Party for 2016 with Hispanic voters,” said Sharry. “Is it self-destructive? Definitely. Can they help themselves? Definitely not.”

My opinion: If the polls are right and Republicans win both Houses of Congress, Obama will most likely meet his long-delayed promise to take executive action on immigration, and offer a path to work permits for up to 8 million undocumented workers who meet several standards, such as having clean legal records and paying back taxes.

That will drive Tea Party Republicans in Congress crazy. They will accuse Obama of being a dictator who bypasses Congress — funny, because now they are accusing him of being indecisive — and they will step up their calls for the president’s impeachment, which will make a lot of noise but not go anywhere.

All of which will lead to an increased perception among Hispanics that the Republican Party is anti-immigration and anti-Hispanic.

A right-wing controlled Congress and a primary election system that will give white-majority northeastern states a major say in the Republican nomination process may produce an unelectable Republican candidate. Republicans, whose share of the Hispanic vote fell from 44 percent in the 2004 presidential election to 27 percent when Romney lost in 2012, may once again be defeated in 2016 for failing to win Latin votes.

I can already see presumed Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton smiling broadly after Tuesday’s vote.