9/15/07

WSJ -- The GOP's Anti-Latino Tone is a Loser

The WSJ joins a small but growing list cautioning the GOP to stop marching to the beat (or the screeches) of its anti-immigrant/Latino racists. I've posted the full article. Whether you're Republican, Democrat or Independent, conservative, liberal, Latino or other, read it. It's a wise piece.

Hispanics and the GOP
How to lose elections in one Lou Dobbs lesson.

Saturday, September 15, 2007 12:01 a.m.

Between 1996 and 2004, the Republican share of the Hispanic vote doubled to more than 40%, only to fall in last year's midterm election to less than 30%. The most recent polls show Hispanics breaking for Democrats over Republicans by 51% to 21%. What gives?

To understand this remarkable erosion of Latino support for Republicans, look no further than the most recent Presidential debates. While GOP candidates debated the urgency of erecting a fence from California to Texas along the Mexican border, Democrats debated in Spanish on Univision.

To reverse current trends, the GOP need not resort to ethnic pandering, which is the left's m├ętier. But Republicans would help their cause tremendously if the party at the very least adopted a welcoming stance toward Latino newcomers. People aren't going to listen to your message unless they believe you care about them. Ronald Reagan didn't regularly receive a third of the Hispanic vote by sounding like Mitt Romney or Fred Thompson on immigration.

Tone matters in politics, and getting people to vote for you is easier when you're not likening them to Islamic terrorists, or implying that Latino men are hard-wired for gang-banging. Unlike blacks, who have hewed to Democrats in large majorities for decades, Latinos are proven swing voters, and Republican energies would be better employed trying to win them over instead of trying to capitalize on ethnic polarization to win GOP primaries.

There's precedent here. In the mid-1990s after California Governor Pete Wilson embraced Proposition 187, which denied education and health-care benefits to the children of illegal aliens, Latino support for Republicans fell to 25% from 53%, and GOP support among Asians and women declined as well.

Some conservatives insist that it's only the illegal aliens who have earned their wrath, but when the target of scorn is the mother or brother or cousin of someone here lawfully, that becomes a difference without much of a distinction politically. Moreover, Tom Tancredo, the pied piper of restrictionists in Congress, wants a "time out" on all legal immigration, and Hispanic voters are wise to the fact that it's not because he thinks there are too many Italians in the U.S. Republican pols may decide to follow Mr. Tancredo, Lou Dobbs, Fox News populists and obsessive bloggers down this path, but it's likely to lead to political defeat.

Hispanics are now about 8% of the electorate, but they're projected to become 20% by 2020 and one-quarter of the total U.S. population by 2050. The political reality is that going forward Hispanics will have to play a bigger and bigger role in keeping the GOP competitive nationally. It's hard to see how Republicans have any hope of building a permanent majority if Hispanics start voting for Democrats in the percentages that blacks already do.

Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona all boast heavy Latino populations and are states that a GOP Presidential candidate probably has to carry unless he can pick up states on the West coast or in the Northeast that Republicans haven't won since the 1980s. President Bush won Nevada, Colorado and Arizona twice. Al Gore won New Mexico in 2000, but it switched to Mr. Bush in 2004 in part because the President did well among the state's large Hispanic population.

Which brings us to a final, somewhat ironic, point about these political and demographic trends. Republican strategists, led by Karl Rove, Ken Mehlman and Matthew Dowd, took note of what was happening long before their Democratic counterparts. As recently as 2004, Democrats still viewed Latinos as voters they could take for granted. The assumption was that, as with blacks, perfunctory appeals to past discrimination would suffice to win them over. John Kerry ran no significant campaign in Hispanic communities and rarely traveled to the Southwest.

But it turns out that 50% of Hispanic voters are foreign-born and grew up speaking Spanish, not nursing racial grievances. That's an increase from 20% in 1988, and most of Mr. Bush's gains among Hispanics in 2004 came from this cohort. The point is that Republican principles--economic or cultural--are not lost on Hispanics, who are hardly wedded to one party, even if some conservatives insist this vote is lost to them. And it's no coincidence the 2008 Democratic convention will be in Colorado, where Hispanics are 19% of the population.

President Bush proved that the GOP could make significant inroads with Latinos, and smart Governors like Rick Perry in Texas and Jeb Bush in Florida have also shown the political wisdom of avoiding anti-immigration appeals. It's unfortunate that other Republicans, including most of Mr. Bush's would-be successors, seem so eager to help the Democrats make up lost ground.

Copyright © 2007 Dow
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