The GOP's Hispanic Problem - The Hole is Very Deep

While it is conceivable that the GOP could nominate or place on the ticket a candidate who could do well with Hispanics in 2016 (Bush, Sandoval, Martinez, Rubio), the GOP starts out 2016 in a very deep hole that will be hard if not impossible to climb out of.

In the 2006 cycle the national GOP, led by the House GOP, rejected the more modern Bush approach to Hispanic voters, and firmly embraced a more vigorous anti-immigrant stance. In the 2006 mid-terms Hispanic voters fled the GOP, giving Democrats a 70/30 advantage, or about the same 2:1 margin Barack Obama got in each of the last two general elections. This is a long way from 40% President Bush received in 2004, a margin essential to his very narrow victory.

As the number of the Hispanics in the electorate increases every year this 2:1 structural advantage for Democrats becomes far more pernicious for the GOP every cycle, producing ever larger Democratic margins – in other words the GOP hole gets deeper every four years even if Democrats just maintain their current advantage.

Bush pollster Matthew Dowd once famously said that the GOP can no longer prevail in national elections without getting 40% of the Hispanic vote. In 2012, Mitt Romney received 27% - a pre Bush margin for the GOP. All the gains in image and performance we saw for the GOP in the Bush years had been washed away by 2012 in part due to the GOP’s embrace of the "self-deportation" approach, or the simple idea that their solution for the 11m undocumented immigrants living and working among us was for them to leave.

So while there are large structural barriers to the GOP becoming competitive again with Hispanics in Presidential cycles, it is my own belief that the issue and cultural barriers are perhaps greater today than they have ever been in the modern era of American politics. It isn’t only that that the anti-immigrant forces in the have prevailed in the GOP’s internal struggles and blocked comprehensive immigration reform for a decade now; it is isn’t only that they voted affirmatively to accelerate the deportation of the kids at the border last summer or deport DREAMers, targeting not just undocumented immigrants but innocent children; it isn’t only that they voted repeatedly to reinstate the threat of imminent deportation over all 11m that had been lifted in 2010 due to a reform in the deportation policies of DHS; and it isn’t only that they are fighting tooth and nail the most recent DAPA reforms from President Obama that would provide deportation relief and work permits for 5m long settled immigrant families. Taken together, all of these steps represent a dramatic escalation of the GOP’s anti-immigrant impulses, putting them in an even more extreme place than the extreme self-deportation stance Romney took in 2012.

And as bad as all of that is what makes the GOP’s task even more daunting are the extreme positions they’ve taken on the other three big issues most struggling Hispanic families care most about – the economy, health care and education. Paul Ryan’s budget guts federal spending on public education. Repealing Obamacare denies health insurance to tens of millions of Hispanics, the demographic group who will benefit the most from the full implementation of the ACA (impossible to overstate the significance of this in 2016). The contrast of the performance of the economy under recent Republican and Democratic Presidents has become very stark as no demographic group made stronger economic gains in the US last year than Hispanics, and it is just a fact that under Clinton and Obama things have gotten much better for Hispanics, and under Bush much worse. The GOP has repeatedly fought raising the minimum wage, something very important to Hispanic workers in the US.

And even look at Cuba policy, something that could very easily become a powerful surrogate for the broader acceptance of Latin America and its peoples by the US and Americans. Rubio and Bush have doubled down on an anachronistic policy that is deeply unpopular in the US, in Cuba, throughout Latin America and even in Florida. The more nuanced and welcoming Obama stance on Cuba has played well in Florida, helping give the Democrats a majority of the Cuban-American vote in 2012. New polls out in the last few weeks show that a majority of Cuban-Americans back the President’s most recent diplomatic opening. The Bush/Rubio position on Cuba is a political dead end, and it will make it harder for them to reach the rest of the Hispanic population – something that was not the case in the W Bush era.

In my thirteen years studying the Hispanic vote, the issue contrast between Democrats and Republicans on the issues Hispanics care about most has never been greater or more potentially dangerous for the GOP. And the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, is well regarded among Hispanics and will run a well-funded and competent campaign. She starts with a strong personal and family standing, among the strongest of any Democrat in the modern era; with a large, significant and growing structural electoral advantage; and I would argue a structural issue advantage far more favorable for the Democrats than in any time in the modern era. So while it is possible that a Bush or a Sandoval could help the GOP limb a bit out this enormous political hole dug by other Republicans in recent years, it is my belief that today is far far more likely that Hillary Clinton gets to 70% percent with Hispanics and puts the election away than it is any GOPer makes the Republican ticket competitive again with this fast growing and vital vote in 2016. The hole is just too deep, the likely Democratic nominee is just too strong, and the potential GOP field just not compelling enough to make the difference.


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