On election night, former NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw appeared confused at how dismally Mitt Romney had performed with Latinos. “Latinos are a natural constituent of Republicans,” Brokaw said.
This is a sentiment Republicans have been offering again and again as they try to understand how they have done worse with Latino voters in every presidential election since 2000.
The subtext is, “Aren’t they Catholic and pro-life? Why wouldn’t they vote for us?”
It doesn’t take Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball to understand why Mitt Romney did even worse attracting Latino voters than John McCain and George W. Bush.
Bush vehemently supported comprehensive immigration reform — as did McCain, before AM radio convinced him that building “that damn fence” was his only way into the White House. In the GOP primary, Mitt Romney went right on immigration to beat Rick Perry, endorsing a policy that you’ll surely never hear any mainstream Republican mention again: “self-deportation.”
Americans of Hispanic or Latino descent are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the United States. They now make up 11 percent of the electorate and Pew says that they’re likely to double that share by 2030.
But did they cost Mitt Romney the election? No.
“The bottom line is that even if Romney had made historic gains among Hispanic voters, he still would have lost the election,” writes the Washington Examiner’s Byron York. The New Republic‘s Nate Cohn confirms that if Romney had performed 20 points better with Hispanics, Obama still would have won 303 electoral votes.
So what’s behind the freak-out over Romney’s miserable performance with Latinos?
In one word: Texas.
The Lone Star State’s newest senator-elect, Ted Cruz, explained the predicament to The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza:
In not too many years, Texas could switch from being all Republican to all Democrat. If that happens, no Republican will ever again win the White House. New York and California are for the foreseeable future unalterably Democrat. If Texas turns bright blue, the electoral college math is simple. We won’t be talking about Ohio, we won’t be talking about Florida or Virginia, because it won’t matter. If Texas is bright blue, you can’t get to 270 electoral votes. The Republican Party would cease to exist.
But as many Republicans seek to correct Romney’s alienation of this voting bloc, others are cautioning against the conclusion that supporting immigration reform or simply nominating Marco Rubio will save the Republican Party.
In his column urging Republicans to support immigration reform, Charles Krauthammer, a noted expert on Latino culture, wrote, “The principal reason they go Democratic is the issue of illegal immigrants.”
Krauthammer is echoing Mitt Romney a bit in this argument, suggesting that Latinos only supported the president because he stopped deportation of young people who would be eligible for legal status under the DREAM Act. This “gift” bought their vote.
But this assumes that Latinos aren’t aware that the president deported criminal undocumented immigrants at a faster rate than President Bush. Under Obama, undocumented immigration is at the lowest rate in decades, basically net zero.
This complicated record forces a look at Latino’s stands on other issues. Do this and you recognize that the Republican caricature just doesn’t hold up.
Two-thirds of Latino voters think abortion should be legal. A majority supports gay marriage.
In two important ways, they are also more liberal than the general population — 3 out of 4 support an expanded role of government. Latinos are also 9 percent more likely to call themselves “liberal” than Americans as a whole.
In many ways, this matches how Catholic voters in general—who supported President Obama in 2012—feel about government and the Church’s role. In a recent poll, Catholics said they wish the Church would focus on poverty more and social issues less.
Byron York seems especially afraid that the GOP has serious misconceptions about the Latino community that he wants to clear up. He quotes social scientist Charles Murray, who has looked at the data and found that Latinos “aren’t more religious than everyone else … aren’t married more than everyone else … aren’t more conservative than everyone else.” He’s suggesting, in a very condescending manner, that Latinos actually sound more like… Democrats.
And he’s probably right.
When it comes to the long list of groups that Mitt Romney struggled with—single women, “urban” voters, gay people—none of them seem inclined to sway toward to the Republican Party because of one single issue. Republicans will likely still tout immigration reform because the business wing of the party has always supported it.
But they shouldn’t do it expecting to suddenly reap a bounty of Latino voters.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File