The post-election soul searching from Republicans has made one thing clear: there is a sea change in the conservative attitude toward immigration. Conservatives were always split on this issue (support for immigrants and immigration reform is certainly nothing new here in the pages of COMMENTARY), but there has been vocal and influential grassroots opposition to immigration reform. So it is most welcome that after a historic drubbing by the growing Hispanic vote, Republicans have “evolved,” to use the president’s term.
Immigration reform and taking a more welcoming attitude toward immigrants makes sense on every level–economically, morally, culturally, etc. But at the risk of being accused of looking a gift horse in the mouth, I think something needs to be said about the way this argument is taking shape, with particular emphasis on the newfound expression of support for Hispanic immigration on the right. As I said, there are many logical reasons to welcome immigrants and to support immigration reform. But conservatives who have previously opposed it and are now admitting that cynical electoral considerations are driving their evolution are making an understandable, but still devastating, mistake.
To follow up on my previous item on how much trouble Republicans face with Latino (and other minority) voters, take a look at the results of the Fox News exit polls.
They show that 11 percent of voters were Latinos and that they went for President Obama by margins varying from 65 percent (those 65 years old and up) to 74 percent (18- to 29-year-olds). The fact that the youngest group–which made up 4 percent of the total electorate–is the most Democratic is especially alarming because of what it says about the future.
In the emerging postmortems on the Romney campaign, many reasons are being adduced for his defeat, but one point is generally consistently acknowledged–the Republicans paid a heavy price for alienating Latino voters. As Fox News notes:
Obama garnered 71 percent of the Latino vote nationwide compared to Mitt Romney’s 27 percent, according to the exit polls. Romney’s showing among Latinos in 2012 is the worst for a GOP candidate since Bob Dole won 21 percent of the Latino vote in 1996. When President George W. Bush won in 2000, he received 44 percent of the Latino vote, and in 2008 John McCain won 31 percent of the vote….
The importance of the Latino vote can especially be underscored in states like Nevada, Florida, and Colorado, where the Latino electorate makes a significant portion of the electorate at 18, 17, and 14 percent, respectively.
It is not a coincidence, of course, that Romney lost all of those states. In retrospect, President Obama pulled off a masterstroke when in June he issued an executive order stopping the potential deportation of some 800,000 young people who arrived here as undocumented immigrants. He thus seized the initiative by depicting himself as the champion of immigrants and the GOP–which loudly denounced his move–as the party of nativism.
When it comes to identity politics, the Obama White House’s “war on women” has dominated the conversation. But the significance of the women’s vote, in terms of demographics, is still generally overshadowed by the minority/white vote split. As Ronald Brownstein writes, President Obama needs about an 80/40 distribution to win reelection: 80 percent of minorities and 40 percent of white voters. And as Ruy Teixeira notes here, the Hispanic share of the vote has grown since the 2008 presidential election. Which is why polls showing a massive Latino preference for the Democratic ticket have Republicans nervous about more than just this one election.
But outreach to the Latino community presents its own problems. First of all, Republicans, and especially conservatives, are comfortable with identity politics when it comes to cultural divides and religious issues, but exceedingly uncomfortable when it comes to race or ethnicity. But more importantly, the GOP’s ability to attract Latino voters on the issues is often overstated, and presents something of a mirage. Take this recent poll of Latino voters, released about a week ago. It shows Obama getting 73 percent of the Latino vote, not because of immigration (an issue in which Obama has almost no interest), but because of the economy–exactly where Republicans thought they could make gains: