For Republicans, it's diversify or die
It's decision time for the GOP. Does the party want to be competitive in future presidential elections, or does it prefer to doom itself to perpetual defeat?
This is about basic math. The party can't win if it stays overwhelmingly white, not in an increasingly diverse nation where Hispanics are the fastest-growing cohort in the electorate. So Republicans on Capitol Hill have a simple choice: They can support path-to-citizenship immigration reform — the debate began yesterday in the Senate, with the big vote slated for late June — or they can block it and suffer the political consequences.
But hey, don't take my word for it. Here's what the Republican National Committee wrote three months ago, in its candid autopsy of the 2012 race:
If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States ... they will not pay attention to our next sentence. It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies.
Which is precisely what happened in 2012, when Mitt "Self-Deportation" Romney tallied only 27 percent of Hispanic voters; thanks to their strong turnout, he lost Florida, Colorado, Virginia, Nevada, and New Mexico - all of which used to be reliable GOP strongholds. That pattern will persist unless House and Senate Republicans sign on to immigration reform. As Lindsey Graham rightly observes, "If we're not able to pass immigration reform in 2013, and it's the Republican party's fault, we're dead in 2016."
Of course it would be the Republican party's fault.
Conservative senators are basically demanding that the U.S. border be fully secured — seriously, how can it ever be fully secured? — before we provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants. If conservatives can successfully attach onerous border-security amendments to the reform bill, the whole effort could collapse.
In truth, the Mexican border is more secure now than it was a decade ago. The number of border agents has been doubled, from 10,650 to 21,300; moreover, the flow of migrants from Mexico has significantly declined since 2005. But the GOP's anti-reform wing will cling to the border issue nonetheless.
Hispanic voters are well aware of the conservative hostility; they know that Rush Limbaugh and other members of the conservative infauxtainment complex are still railing against immigration reform. (Rush, recently: "Why can't we just say no? Why can't we just oppose it? ... The Republican party is sitting on a golden opportunity to define itself, to contrast itself with the Democrat party?") And if reform goes down, they're primed to punish the Republicans yet again.
According to a new poll conducted by America's Voice/Latino Decisions, reform is the community's top issue. Congressional Democrats have a 65-25 favorabilty rating on their handling of reform; congressional Republicans, 27-58. And 67 percent of Hispanic voters say they know someone who is undocumented. So, clearly, the Republican National Committee report got it right: Immigration reform is a gateway issue. If the party continues to send out hostile vibes, Hispanic voters (in their ever-growing numbers) will continue to tune the party out.
It's like what John McCain said back in April, as the reform effort gathered speed: "(Passing it) won't gain us a single Hispanic vote. But what it will do is put us on a playing field on which we can compete. Right now we cannot compete."
Somebody should tell that to the House Republicans — because they seem determined to wreck the party's presidential prospects in 2016. (They can't help being who they are.) Six days ago, they detonated one of their symbolic stink bombs, voting en masse to overturn President Obama's 2012 executive order that basically delays the deportation of undocumented children. The House vote was meaningless, of course, because the Senate will never go along with it. But the political message to Hispanic voters was loud and clear: House Republicans are so hostile to immigrants that they're willing to go after the children.
But immigration reform will never get to Obama's desk unless the House says yes. The problem is, most Republicans in that chamber are cocooned in gerrymandered districts where their biggest worry is being primaried from the right. So is there any way that reform can successfully escape that sinkhole?
Well, yes. Speaker John Boehner in theory could contrive to bring reform to a vote even if most of his troops oppose it. A thin majority can be achieved if House Democrats are allowed to join forces with the small cadre of rational Republicans. And Boehner seemed to hint at that possibility yesterday, in his remarks on ABC News: "My job as speaker is to ensure that all members on both sides have a fair shot...We're gonna let the House work its will." That way, reform can pass and Republicans might be saved from themselves.
The choice is theirs. The future is now. Demography is destiny.
Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1
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