July 2, 2013

Mixed in with the blonde Bond Girls and gotcha gadgets, umbrella guns and lethal cigarette lighter sneakiness, The International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., features a display with a cyanide capsule, the quick out for spooks pulled in from the cold to the heat of interrogation.

Snap off the end of that little suicide pill and the end comes quickly. The thing with the death tabs is, well, they take the taker. No one else. So it's sort of your business. And God's. Your call out there in the field.

And that's the way many Republicans wish it were with U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, as he swallows The Big Political Pill, refusing to spit out a word of compromise on immigration reform. He's taken to the lawn of Capitol to decry the Senate-passed historic immigration reform as amnesty.

He's vented on Latino students in his office, so-called "Dreamers," immigrants who were brought to the country as kids, and want to be integrated with the rights of citizenship to earn their educations, find a productive place in our economy. King's Twitter take on them: "20 brazen self professed illegal aliens have invaded my DC office. Obama's lawless order gives them de facto immunity from U.S. law."

There's no give, no quarter with King when it comes to any immigration reform with a hint of a path to citizenship for immigrants here without papers.

That, in King's mind, would be akin to George Washington rowing back across the Delaware.

But the congressman's hostility to sweeping immigration reform that passed the Senate last week - 62-38 - runs up against two numbers that are frightening for GOP party poobahs - 71 percent to 27 percent, the margin by which President Barack Obama defeated Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election among Latino voters.

King and his right guard, Louie Gohmert and Michele Bachmann, are big-hat ideologues more comfortable with what Olympia Snowe calls "an umbrella" to cover the Republican Party than stretching out under an expansive tent with diverse voices.

When King speaks, Republicans like Karl Rove and John McCain, hear the suicide pill cracking. Like a conjoined twin, what King consumes flows into the bloodstream of others, millions of Republicans, in fact.

When King speaks on immigration it's Siamese suicide for the party's national fortunes, perhaps for a generation.

Or is it?

The conventional wisdom is that a canyon-yell to reach Latinos won't sustain the GOP.

But maybe, just maybe, the GOP can win with white people as its base.

In a fascinating piece in Real Clear Politics, Sean Trende writes that the Democratic Party has yet to hit the floor with white voters.

President Barack Obama captured 39 percent of the white vote in 2012. Democrats have been on a 1.5-point decline with the white vote each presidential election cycle since 1992, when a guy named Bubba topped the ticket.

"Democrats liked to mock the GOP as the 'Party of White People' after the 2012 elections," Trende writes. "But from a purely electoral perspective, that's not a terrible thing to be. Even with present population projections, there are likely to be a lot of non-Hispanic whites in this country for a very long time. Relatively slight changes among their voting habits can forestall massive changes among the non-white population for a very long while. The very white baby boom generation is just hitting retirement age, and younger whites, while unsurprisingly more Democratic than the baby boomers (who, you may recall, supported George McGovern), still voted for Romney overall."

In a recent interview with The Daily Times Herald, Steve King didn't express this in racially overt language. But he arrived at the same conclusion.

King said Republicans need to comb through the failed Romney campaign and see what went wrong - and the Kiron congressman has a strongly held view on that already himself. President Barack Obama and Romney were close in polling on jobs and the economy. The election turned on social issues, and Romney lost, King said.

"If it was a dead heat on jobs and the economy, and Barack Obama went all the way down through the list of his base, and energized his base every way that I can think of, and on the Republican side, it was just jobs and the economy and nothing else?" King said. "I think there's a broad spectrum of issues, and some people will vote on a single issue, guns for example, life, marriage, all of those things, rule of law. All of that lines up, and I think that there were millions who might have come to the polls if they'd been given some of those reasons to do so. So I'm going to stand on the point of we shall not abandon our principles - and see how the message gets sold at that point."

Keep this in mind, though: King balked on the opportunity to test his theory in a statewide race for U.S. Senate.

The major dilemma: the Republican Party is simultaneously pursuing two strategies at odds with each other, the double-down approach of King, and the broadening, coalition-building efforts of Senate Republicans. It's a collision course. The GOP won't need to visit the Spy Museum to find that killer pill. The Republicans are handling that just fine in Congress.