by Jim Nintzel
The Gang of Eight's comprehensive immigration-reform bill made it through the Senate last week, but faces a rockier road in the GOP-controlled House. Pundits are becoming increasing skeptical that the GOP needs to do anything to reach out to Latino voters, perhaps for good reason. Slate's Dave Weigel does the math:
Republicans currently control 234 of the House’s 435 voting districts. In 210 of these districts—eight short of the votes you need to elect a speaker—the Hispanic share of the vote is below 25 percent. Of the other 24 districts where Hispanic voters might be problematic for a Republican who attacks the immigration bill, 12 went for Mitt Romney over Barack Obama. So, if House Republicans held every one of their current seats that only have a tiny fraction of Hispanics, and the dozen with solid Hispanic votes but Republican tendencies, they’d have the majority with four votes to spare. “Nonwhite voters are a threat to Republican White House chances in 2016, but hardly a threat to the House Republican majority,” says David Wasserman, House race editor of the Cook Political Report.
It’s clear just how skeptical House Republicans are of immigration reform when you consider that one of those 24 sent to Washington from the mixed, white/Hispanic districts is Texas Rep. Lamar Smith (Hispanic vote in his district: 27 percent), who was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee until this year, and who still gets a committee vote on a possible immigration bill. Before Thursday’s vote Smith tweeted that “the #Senate #immigration bill ignores the will of the #American people & puts the interests of illegal immigrants & foreign workers first.”
Smith isn’t worried about any backlash to a vote against the immigration bill. Neither are most of his colleagues. The 2010 round of congressional redistricting ensured that two out of three Hispanic voters now live in Democratic districts.
Weigel notes that Republicans are talking about increasing their appeal to white voters:
So, what’s easier for Republicans? To give in and pass a bill that might add Hispanic voters to your districts, whom you then have to win over; or blocking the bill and upping your share of the white vote? That’s hardly a dilemma at all, and explains why the Senate bill faces such a hard road in the House. As they contemplate 2014 and 2016, Republicans are looking at elections where the white share of the vote may increase compared with 2012. They compare elections when Barack Obama was on the ballot against elections when he wasn’t. The white shares of the vote in 2008, 2010, and 2012 were, respectively, 74 percent, 77 percent, and 72 percent.
“I don't look at Obama completely as stunt casting,” says Florida-based GOP strategist Rick Wilson, “but the fact that he was the first minority president moved a lot of minority voters. And right now the group of possible Democratic nominees for 2016 looks like a meeting of the Robert Byrd fan club. It's the white boy coalition. None of these guys will light a fire for black voters.”
But Republicans, increasingly, light a fire with whites. From 2008 to 2012, Barack Obama’s share of the white vote fell from 43 percent to 39 percent. Right after the election, the fact that Obama scored a smaller white vote than Michael Dukakis was cited as proof that the GOP needed to change. Flip the logic. If Republicans can build on the white trend but Democrats can’t build on the nonwhite trends, Republicans will be safe, for a while. If Republicans get back to the 66 percent white vote won by Ronald Reagan in 1984, they’re golden.
That dovetails with some of the skepticism I noted in a feature story on immigration reform a few weeks ago:
But other GOP figures dismiss the idea that Republicans need to reach out to Latino voters. Last week, longtime Republican activist Phyllis Schlafly suggested that the Republican Party should instead try to reach out to more hard-core conservative white voters.
"The people the Republicans should reach out to are the white votes—the white voters who didn't vote in the last election," Schlafly said on the Family Focus radio show. "There are millions of them. I think when you have an establishment-run nomination system, they give us a series of losers, which they've given us with Dole, McCain, and Romney, and they give us people who don't connect with the grass roots."
Activists like Schlafly argue that providing Latinos with a path to citizenship—even a long one such as the decade-plus wait envisioned in the Senate immigration bill—will be a net loser for the Republican Party because Latinos are more likely to vote Democratic even if Republicans try to court them through immigration reform.
Former state lawmaker Frank Antenori, a hard-right Republican who lost his bid to represent a competitive central-Tucson district last year while championing SB 1070 (among other issues), said that allowing more Hispanics to become citizens—and voters—is a bad idea for Republicans because as things now stand, about 3 out of 4 Latinos vote for Democrats. He called that "losing math" for the GOP.
Antenori made the case that Latinos are more likely to vote Democratic because they "come from countries that have very socialist governments and they're pre-indoctrinated into the socialist mindset. Polling showed they were voting for Democrats because they like the sort of big-government, freebie, take-care-of-the-worker versus the evil-rich-guy mindset. ... They come from countries where they are downtrodden and they think that there's a class war and they are the have-nots battling the haves, and so they think the Democratic Party (is better) because it is going to do this equality thing like Hugo Chavez and all these guys. So that's who they vote for. It's the mindset. The data shows it."