One popular takeaway from Tuesday's primary loss by (soon to be former) House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to newcomer David Brat is that immigration reform—any effort to create an eased path to legal residency and citizenship—took a big hit. That's because Brat, aside from being a market-minded economics professor, is also something of a border warrior who opposes expanded immigration. But that may not be the case with libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) apparently joining forces with an immigration reform group.
Paul has walked something of a fine line on the immigration issue, which is a sensitive one for the Republican Party. Many GOP hardliners on the issue seem absolutely committed not only to making it harder to legally enter the country, but to offending those who have already arrived. Paul hasn't taken it that far, but he has risked giving offense anyway without committing himself to a clear position. His website says:
I do not support amnesty, I support legal immigration and recognize that the country has been enriched by those who seek the freedom to make a life for themselves. However, millions of illegal immigrants are crossing our border without our knowledge and causing a clear threat to our national security. I want to work in the Senate to secure our border immediately. In addition, I support the creation of a border fence and increased border patrol capabilities.
But yesterday, the Partnership for a New American Economy announced "Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) Joins Grover Norquist to Address Need for Immigration Reform." The press release from the business-oriented immigration reform group is short on details about Paul's specific take, but Paul reportedly told participants "the ball is moving forward" on immigration reform.
The Partnership's release adds, "Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) joined Grover Norquist to talk about immigration reform and the Senator's ideas to strengthen border security, reform existing immigration laws for employers and attempt to find common ground on smaller immigration related matters."
How that shakes out in terms of legislative votes and policy proposals we'll have to wait to see. Last year, he voted against a major immigration reform proposal.
But Paul is a potential serious contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. He's already chastised his party over the Voter ID issue, saying it's offending people who might otherwise consider supporting the GOP. The shift on immigration reform might well be part of his larger effort to improve his own appeal—and that of his party.
Brian Doherty yesterday explored just how libertarian American politics can actually get, even at a "libertarian moment" that creates an opening for people like Rand Paul. In this case, it could be that the moment is pushing one prominent libertarian-leaner even further toward personal freedom.