Commentary: Why Obama Isn't Worried About GOP Threats on Immigration

Commentary: Why Obama Isn't Worried About GOP Threats on Immigration

Obama has nothing to lose with his executive action and everything to gain if Republicans go overboard.

Published November 22, 2014

All three major television networks declined to cover President Obama's immigration speech Thursday night, but two of the most important networks — Telemundo and Univision — ran it live.

That means the primary audience the president needed to reach was watching closely on Thursday. It also helped that the speech served as an unofficial introduction to the Latin Grammys, which came on immediately after the president's remarks. One award recipient even dedicated his Grammy to Obama.

Republicans weren't so charitable this week. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota accused the president of creating millions of "illiterate" Democratic voters. Rep. Steve King of Iowa argued the president had "torn Article One out of the constitution, put it into his own pocket and said I'm now the legislative branch, too." Rep. Mo Brooks said the president "wants to import millions of foreigners who he hopes will tip the balance of future elections in the Democratic Party's favor."

Meanwhile, some outside analysts fear the president's move might alienate white voters. "Many white Americans see that America is changing, believe that immigration is driving many of the negative changes and know that one party stands largely on the side of immigrants while the other party stands largely in opposition," according to Professor Zoltan Hajnal. "For many whites," he says, "this is a powerful motivation to vote Republican."

Oh well.

Let's be honest. Most white people were never going to support President Obama anyway. The president only received 39 percent of the white vote in 2012 and 43 percent in 2008. It's not just because he's Black; it's also because he's a Democrat. No Democratic presidential nominee has won the white vote in the past 40 years.

The lack of white support for Democrats might seem to pose a problem, but Democrats have managed to win the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. Clearly, something is working for Democrats, and that something is math. Asians are the fastest growing ethnic group in the U.S. and Latinos are now the largest minority group.

While white voters made up 72 percent of the electorate in the 2012 election, that's down from 89 percent in the 1976 election, and their share of the electorate will continue to drop with America's changing demographics. By 2043, whites will no longer be a majority in the United States. A Latina child who entered the first grade this year will reach the age of eligibility to run for president at the same time when her country will no longer be dominated by a white majority. 

This is why Democrats shouldn't worry about Republican threats of consequences from Obama's immigration action. Those who are most upset about the immigration plan were never going to vote for Democrats anyway, while those who are most pleased finally have a reason to believe the Democrats will live up to their promises.

Remember, the Democrats start presidential election contests with a built-in advantage of 242 out of 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. This so-called "blue wall" consists of states like California, New York and Illinois with large African-American and Latino populations. But the formula doesn't work as well in midterm elections, where minority turnout tends to be lower. The president's immigration action, alone, may not increase minority turnout in off-year elections, but an angry GOP response could.

If Republicans were to impeach the president over immigration, which they won't, that would alienate large numbers of African-American and Latino voters and could become a motivating factor to drive turnout in future elections. That's why Obama has nothing to lose with his executive action and everything to gain if Republicans go overboard.

So go ahead, Republicans, make his day.

Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes commentary for each week.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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Written by Keith Boykin


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