Republicans, Hispanics, and deja vu politics
Let's start the week with a pop quiz. Of the 15 most populated states in America, care to guess how many Mitt Romney won?
The answer: Four.
And if you exclude the Old Confederacy states on that list, care to guess how many Romney captured?
The answer: A grand total of one.
That pretty much sums up the election - and the abiding weakness of the Republican brand outside the party's southern white and rural white enclaves. Romney scored in the most populous Old Confederacy states (Texas, Georgia, North Carolina) and managed one other win in the top 15 (Indiana), but otherwise he was shut out. Care to guess why that happened? And why, more broadly, he lost eight of the nine swing states?
Because the GOP got stomped in states with racially and ethnically diverse populations - in other words, the states that embody 21st century America. And because, perhaps most importantly, the GOP is anathema to the fastest growing group in the electorate - Hispanics.
Some Republicans seem to recognize this reality. On CBS News yesterday, South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham said: "The (anti-)immigration debate that we engaged in in 2006 and '07 has built a wall between the Republican party and the Hispanic community because of tone and rhetoric....This is an odd formula for a party to adopt, the fastest growing demographic in the country, and we're losing votes every election cycle, and it has to stop. It's one thing to shoot yourself in the foot, just don't reload the gun. So, I intend not to reload this gun when it comes to Hispanics.....We have nobody to blame but ourselves when it comes to losing Hispanics. And we can't get them back with some effort on our part."
Sounds good - but wait, hadn't I heard Republicans talk that way before? About the need to stop dumping on Hispanics and start reaching out to Hispanics?
Quote #1: The GOP "is facing changing demographic forces that present a challenge to its long term growth...It must shed its image as the party of 'old white guys.'"
Quote #2: "We cannot take the largest, fastest growing minority in America, and write it off like we did with African-Americans."
Kristen Solis, the research director at a top GOP polling firm, said #1. Karl Rove, who needs no introduction, said #2. They voiced those warnings four years ago, at the tail end of 2008.
Sounded good at the time - but wait, hadn't I heard Republicans talk that way before?
Quote #1: "The trend is obvious, and the political danger is real. (The GOP) risks political suicide and dooms itself to permanent minority status....We are dramatically losing market share of the fastest-growing segment of the electorate....Our party has a sad and politically self-defeating history of alienating immigrant groups and new voters."
Quote #2: "The broader challenge for the party is to get the debate back with the issues that work for us: economic opportunity, strong values. Where we got off the beam is that some of the ads run by Republican candidates in recent years conveyed the message that Republicans don't like Hispanics, and to quote Jack Kemp, 'If people don't know that you care, they won't care what you know.'"
Stuart Spencer, a legendary California Republican strategist, said #1. Michael Schroeder, a California GOP chairman, said #2. Care to guess when they uttered those remarks?
Fifteen years ago, in 1997.
So you can see, via deja vu, that the latest vows of Hispanic outreach are really nothing new. Every time the Republicans get shellacked by Hispanics - as in California in 1996, where the GOP still hasn't recovered; as in the McCain and Romney defeats - party talking heads vow to drop the exclusionary trash talk and open the doors to their gated white community. But when crunch time arrives during primary season, the angry white right reasserts itself and fouls the party's prospects for another presidential cycle.
Such was the case last year, during a primary debate in Florida, when the audience booed Rick Perry because he had the temerity to defend a Texas program that provides college tuition aid to the children of undocumented immigrants. Romney, reading his audience, naturally went into full pander mode, and attacked Perry from the right. That kind of stuff (and the Romney proposal for "self-deportation") plays well with the intolerant white party base, and it no doubt resonated in the rural and southern states (headquarters for the GOP's shrinking base), but you can't win nationwide talking that way. Not anymore.
Will Republicans finally wake up this time around, and start talking seriously to Hispanics and other people of color - communicating as equals? Or are the inclusionists doomed to be booed anew by the white conservatives who dominate the primaries? Which brings us to today's final quote:
"For now, the party reminds me of the college marching band that went astray during the climax of the film Animal House. Strutting blindly down a dead-end alley, the musicians collided with a brick wall, and even as they crumpled against each other and tumbled to the cement, they kept on playing the same old programmatic music."
I wrote that, nearly four years ago. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.
Now that President Obama has decisively won re-election - his popular vote totals in 2008 and 2012 are the two highest tallies in history; he won 26 states; he and Ronald Reagan are the only presidents in the last seven decades to win twice with more than 50 percent of the vote - the focus will shift to the governing realm. My Sunday newspaper column looked at Obama's prospects for dealing on his terms with the House GOP.
Fun fact (or is it farce fact?) of the 2012 presidential election: The write-in votes for candidate Roseanne Barr totaled 53,520.
That's enough people to fill the seats and aisles of a major-league baseball park. Just imagine how Louis C. K. would have done.
Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1
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