What are they thinking and how can their thinking be changed?

This morning, in a post called “What Are They Thinking?,” Scott asked the question about which speculation has become rampant: Why is the House leadership preparing to push for immigration reform that the base doesn’t want at a time when the GOP seems poised to make big gains in the upcoming election? Scott posits “stupidity.” John has posited “cupidity,” stating: “the principal reason the Republican House leadership is willing to take such terrible risks for the sake of bipartisan immigration legislation is that the party’s donors want it.”

In my view, these two explanations provide the answer, with “cupidity” serving up most of it. However, Sean Trende believes the most plausible explanation for the leadership’s proposed push for amnesty is its fear of winning the 2014 election by a landslide.

This, like much of what I’ve read on the subject on other sites, strikes me as overthinking.

Trende resorts, in effect, to a conspiracy theory because he considers the more straightforward explanations flawed. He dismisses the theory that the leadership is simply catering to business donors by noting that these donors wanted amnesty-style immigration reform last year too, but the House leadership didn’t push for it. Trende also notes that the GOP’s 2014 electoral prospects are excellent right now without the Chamber of Commerce or its ilk having chipped in a dime.

As to Trende’s first point, the House leadership wanted to gift its business donors immigration reform last year, but didn’t feel confident enough to do so. Only after the Tea Party discredited itself (as the leadership sees it) in the government shutdown battle, did Speaker Boehner and company gain the courage to consider taking this faction on over immigration. By then it was too late to wage the fight in 2013.

As to Trende’s second point, it is far from clear, however rosy the polls look now, that Republicans can accrue the electoral gains Trende envisages without a very big war chest. More to the point, it is unlikely that the leader wants to put this to a test.

If, as I believe to be the case, the Chamber and its ilk are expressing campaign finance fatigue and telling John Boehner and Eric Cantor that if they want big-time support in 2014 they must make a run at immigration reform, that talk is going to influence Boehner and Cantor. It’s in their nature.

To be sure, the leaders must weigh such talk against whatever the base might say. But right now, the base is a more inchoate voice than the Chamber of Commerce. It is also more inchoate than the Republican organizers who swear they will never be able to persuade a single Hispanic voter to cast a ballot for the GOP until the party supports amnesty.

This balance of influence will change if the base speaks up forcefully enough. Indeed, Boehner already seems to be hedging his bets.

That’s why it’s so important for House GOP members to hear what we’re thinking. Speaker Boehner’s office phone number is 202-225-6205. The number for the U.S. Capitol switchboard is 202-224-3121. The good folks who work the switchboard will put you right through to your representative’s office.

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