Immigration Reform: Republicans Will Never Win Over Latinos In the Immigration Debate

As the year closes, Republicans are rightly freaking out about their huge demographic problems. Eighty-five percent of the country’s population growth over the past decade has been composed of minorities. Latino mega-donors are preparing to launch a massive push to mobilize the Hispanic community in favor of immigration reform in alliance with the White House. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told the press in October that “[the GOP is] not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.” 

This is unsurprisingly leading Republicans to conclude that they need to reform their stances on key social issues such as immigration and gay rights.

According to Obama’s chief pollster, the Republicans have a much bigger elephant in the room: intolerance.

“When you call people who believe in global warming ‘job-killers,’ you have a tolerance problem,” Joel Benenson, the president’s campaign pollster, says. “When you want to deny gay people, who want to make a lifetime commitment to each other, just as their parents did, because they want to spend a life together, and you want to deny them that life aspiration, you have a tolerance problem.”

Moreso, Benenson posits that GOP attacks on contraception and Planned Parenthood as a further example of their intolerance towards women.

Republicans think they can merely shift positions on a couple of issues important to minority voters and the votes will come back, Benenson alleges. He doesn’t think it’s going to work. “How do you redefine yourself now with what is almost half the electorate? They’re hearing a very strident, intolerant point of view on specific issues.... I mean, they have become a party of orthodoxy.”

Benenson isn’t far off the mark. The GOP and candidate Mitt Romney got creamed this cycle by minority voters, who disproportionately voted for Barack Obama in November. While Romney did just fine among evangelical voters (maintaining George W. Bush’s margins at 57% support), he got just 37% of the remaining three-forths of the electorate.

For the past decade, the Republican Party has been growing increasingly conservative. Political scientist Keith Poole of the University of Georgia told NPR that the modern Republican Party is the most conservative it has been in 100 years.

This is a real problem for Republicans, who must balance catering to the desires of their increasingly right-wing base at the same time that demographic trends are moving quickly in the opposite direction. The Obama campaign was extremely successful in painting Romney as a money-grubbing, heartless, out-of-touch and kinda racist millionaire. Unless they make serious attempts to change the tone of the party, not just their policy platform, then they are going to continue losing the image battle.

Pundit Alex Massie pointed out soon after that election that piecemeal attempts to change the party’s stance on immigration won’t woo Latino voters, because “it is not just about immigration. It is about belonging. It is about respect. It is about being part of the American family…. The GOP doesn’t understand this.”

Even some prominent Republican politicians agree: in November, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal told Fox News Sunday “if we want people to like us, we have to like them first.”

Not everyone has gotten the memo, though: Republican Governor Haley Barbour suggested recently that the GOP lost the election because they didn’t campaign negatively enough.

If the GOP wants to avoid generational die-off, mockery and irrelevance, then they need to change their attitude quickly, not just pander on a few minority issues.