Lord knows there are plenty of people to blame for Mitt Romney’s defeat. One chap has not been mentioned often enough, however. Step forward and take your medicine Rick Perry! The Governor of Texas, who once persuaded otherwise sensible folk (and me) he was a more than plausible contender for the GOP nomination, played an important part in securing Barack Obama’s re-election. Perhaps the President should send him a set of Presidential-seal embossed cowboy boots. There are bound to be some left from the Dubya days.
It was Perry who insisted that, if you had a heart, you should support Texas’s policy of not preventing the children of illegal immigrants from getting a college education. These kids, in Texas at least, are treated like any other kids in the Lone Star State. If you live in Texas you should not be charged out-of-state tuition fees for college even if your parents are in the United States illegally.
The humanity of it was too much for Mitt Romney. Sensing that Perry might be a problem the Mittster made it clear that Texas’s let’s-face-the-facts-and-not-victimise-the-kids approach was the sort of soft-on-immigration approach up with which he would not put.
Well, how did that work out? Not very well, frankly. On Tuesday, Romney won less than 30% of the hispanic vote. Cue a thousand blogposts and newspaper articles focused upon the Republican party’s latino problem.
All of which is fair and reasonable. The GOP does have a problem with hispanic voters! There are good reasons for that but it is also the case that it is not going to be easy to find a way to solve these problems. They are deep and not liable to go away immediately even if the GOP makes a concerted effort to address the problem.
And there are, it should be remembered, compelling political facts that make it difficult for the Republican party to reverse-ferret on hispanic immigration.
Suppose, for instance, there were a vote in Congress to pass some kind of amnesty to grant a path to citizenship to the 12 million or so “illegal” immigrants presently residing in the United States. Who’s going to get the political windfall from that? The party that controls the House of Representatives or the party that controls the White House. Yeah, I think we know the answer to that.
Factor in the fact that millions of those newly-enfranchised bona fide Americans will be earning fewer than $50,000 a year and, hence, be more likely to vote for Democratic candidates than Republican hopefuls and you can see, I think, why political imperatives suggest the GOP would be crazy to endorse such a notion. It asks them to do something that is not in their political interests.
Sure, in the longer-term these new citizens might be the kind of strivers who could make up a refreshed Republican coalition. But short-lived politicians are understandably wary of notions that won’t produce any benefit before those same politicians are past their sell-by date. It takes a brave chap to say to hell with that, let’s do it because we should.
There’s a question of moral hazard too. Republicans remember how Ronald Reagan signed what was essentially an amnesty bill. All that did, however, was kick the can down the road for another generation. It did not solve the problem. Now perhaps this is because the problem, alas, resists solution. Nevertheless, the conservative view that once bitten, twice shy is neither stupid nor necessarily reprehensible.
So I don’t disagree with Max Boot when he says it would be useful if Republicans thought again about the DREAM Act but I think doing so will not be enough to solve the GOP’s hispanic problem.
Because it is not just about immigration. It is about belonging. It is about respect. It is about being part of the American family. As Matt Yglesias observes – in a characteristically excellent post – the GOP doesn’t understand this. Remember the brouhaha over Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court? Conservative snake-oil salesmen rushed to portray her as an “affirmative action” pick who was, anyway, some kind of racist because she had the temerity to suggest that her own background might prove a useful qualification for a place on the court.
You don’t need to be an illegal immigrant to be annoyed by that. Sure, being hispanic may have helped Sotomayor in as much as Obama selected her rather than another just as equally-qualified judge but so what? Only idiots would choose to suggest or imply that the only way a hispanic woman could get to the Supreme Court would be if the barriers for nomination were lowered. Yet that is what many of the noisier elements of the conservative movement suggested. And they are surprised that latino voters were listening and remembered this? Sheesharama.
More, much more, than this however is the fact that the GOP cannot pander its way to success with hispanic voters. It needs policies that work for hispanic voters and it needs to trust that hispanic voters will be smart and sufficiently self-interested to appreciate that GOP candidates offer a better way ahead. That means that while immigration is important it is not everything. The GOP needs to reconnect with ordinary, anxious Americans earning between $40,000 and $80,000 a year. If it does and if it can moderate the tone it uses when speaking about immigration and other latino-related issues then it can begin to do better.
Are hispanics part of the American brotherhood or not? I suspect many think the GOP thinks they are not “real Americans”. But they are. And until the Republican party persuades them they are part of the American fabric it is going to be in trouble.