On Election Day, it became clearer than ever how important Hispanics, as the fastest growing portion of the U.S. population, are to national political success. Republican Mitt Romney earned only 27 percent of Latinos’ support in his failed bid for the presidency.
Now, as Republicans in Texas examine Romney’s loss, they are confronting a serious conflict within their own ranks.
On one side, the party leadership wants to court Latinos with outreach efforts and a kinder message about immigration, which polls consistently show as one of the top issues among Hispanics.
“I just don’t want the party to be toast,” said Steve Munisteri, the Republican Party of Texas chairman, who has made the issue a top priority.
Meanwhile, a big part of the Republican base wants to keep driving the party’s ideology to the uber-conservative side of the political spectrum, which means passing tough immigration bills.
Katrina Pierson, a political activist and member of the Dallas Tea Party, said many of the rank-and-file Republicans want to see less pandering to an ethnic group and more work to pass strict immigration laws in Texas, laws like the one in Arizona that requires police officers to check the immigration status of people they think might be in the country illegally.
“It’s one thing to be inclusive,” Pierson said. “But it is another thing to abandon your principles.”
This is the conflict in a nutshell. Some GOP leaders like Steve Munisteri want the party to be more inclusive, or at least less inflammatory, but the rank and file ain’t buying it. The tell is that it’s very hard to win a Republican primary as anything but a hard-liner on immigration. I can’t say it’s “impossible”, I don’t follow GOP primaries closely enough to draw that broad a conclusion, but we all watched the Presidential primary, and we all saw Cruz versus Dewhurst. The people in the GOP who are talking about this are not being listened to by the people who vote in the GOP. And just as a reminder, “sanctuary cities” legislation will be a top priority this spring, as it was two years ago. In fact, a bill repealing the Texas DREAM Act that Rick Perry signed in 2001 and was raked over the coals for by Mitt Romney has already been filed, and the author of the failed 2011 “sanctuary cities” bill warns that what comes out of this year’s Lege “may turn out to be a much harsher bill”.
And even when legislation might not be seen as overtly hostile to Latinos, Democrats in the Texas Legislature have become adept at painting it as such. For example, Democrats portrayed as discriminatory the 2011 redistricting law, which Republicans say was meant simply to elect as many Republicans as possible, not hamper minorities’ voting power. And Democrats cast the GOP-led voter ID effort as discriminatory, even though lawmakers who supported it said it was a common-sense move to protect the sanctity of the ballot.
Of course, the DC federal court also said that the redistricting and voter ID bills were discriminatory in intent and effect, so there’s more to this than just a “some people say” media dodge. Everyone can say what they want about these bills, Democrats have two federal court rulings on their side.
Cal Jillson, a Southern Methodist University political science professor , said messaging is important, but Texas Republicans need to do more than adjust their words and pass a guest worker plank, if they want to remain relevant.
“If that’s what they are doing, that’s dumb politics,” Jillson said.
Jillson said Munisteri and the GOP must substantially address issues such as jobs, education and health care, which are vitally important to Hispanics. “Until that happens, they (Hispanics) are not going to be interested in Republican messaging,” Jillson said.
Again, as I said before, Latino voters have a stronger belief in the role of government and by a sizable majority support the Affordable Care Act and believe that the federal government should ensure that all people have access to health insurance. They tend to be big supporters of public education, too. What’s the GOP got for that? Toning down the anti-immigrant stuff is a necessary first step for them, but it’s far from sufficient.
This is all assuming that they care about competing for Latino votes, of course. The Anglo-centric model is still working pretty well for them here in Texas, even as we heard its likely death knell nationally. As long as Latino voting rates lag behind those of other states, which is another way of saying “as long as there’s no concerted, fully-funded, long-term effort to engage and turn out Latino voters in Texas”, the current model could be good to go for several more cycles. Despite the Munisteris of the world, I suspect the Texas GOP won’t really take this seriously until they have no other choice. See this Ryan Lizza story for more.