Last fall’s overwhelming, more than 3-1 Latino vote for
President Obama has at last gotten leading Republican politicians to realize
they can’t permanently treat all 11 million undocumented immigrants like
Gradually, too, from possible president candidate and
former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to former presidential candidate and Arizona Sen.
John McCain, they are coming to accept the notion that any significant plan to
change American immigration policy must include some path to citizenship for
illegals who have lived and worked many years in America.
They are still far from convincing all their party mates
that shifting to this stance and abandoning their far more hard-line past
positions favoring mass deportation is suicidal for the party in a nation where
Latinos are the fastest-growing population element and voter bloc.
Tony Quinn, a former Republican political operative and
now co-editor of the California Target Book guide to state politics, calls GOP
leaders favoring changes in their policy “Republicans who can count.”
They are, he said, “moving to take over the party with a
mission to stop alienating the fastest growing parts of the American
Changing immigration law to create a doable path to
citizenship, of course, will not be enough. (And there is some doubt that the
13-year waiting period included in the immigration reform package now before
the U.S. Senate fits into the doable category.)
The GOP will also have to convince Hispanic voters its
candidates are the best choices on the other issues salient to Latinos – the
same ones at the top of other Americans’ agendas. Those include job creation,
education reform and health care, according to the latest survey by Latino
Decisions, whose polling of Latinos before last November’s election correctly
forecast an Obama margin of about 75 percent to 25 percent among Hispanics.
But without significant retreat from the GOP’s
longstanding hardline stances, Republicans will simply not get much more than
2012 candidate Mitt Romney’s 22 percent of the Latino vote anytime in the near
future, the poll shows.
“There is a swing
vote of about 30 percent among Latinos,” said Matt Barrero, a University of
Washington professor and a principal in the Latino Decisions firm. “In our
polling, only 13 percent of registered Latinos are definite Republican votes,
but 44 percent say they would give Republican candidates a strong look if they
took leadership in getting a pathway to citizenship.”
Barrero adds that his survey “proves the alarm clock is
ringing loud and clear for the GOP. Latinos oppose the ‘no-citizenship, but
work permit’ approach some Republicans have proposed, because it would create a
permanent underclass. A half-baked solution without citizenship at the end is
no solution at all and will leave Republicans without the Latino votes they
need to get elected.”
This creates a quandary for some GOP politicians, since
much of the GOP base adamantly opposes any sort of citizenship for anyone
currently in this country illegally. Wrote one conservative blogger, “The
immigration restriction base for the GOP is like public employee unions are for
the Democrats in California. They’re the strongest faction.”
But Republicans who want to soften the party’s stance
plainly think those voters – like the conservative Republicans who often said
they could never vote for Romney for president – would eventually come back to
the party because they would have nowhere else to go.
And with about one-fifth of the 10 million Latino U.S.
citizens who are currently unregistered widely expected to register in time for
the 2016 election, it’s clear the GOP needs more appeal to Latinos to have a
shot at winning any future national vote. Fully 58 percent of the 800
registered voters surveyed by Latino Decisions said immigration change is the
decisive issue for them and another 30 percent rated it second only to jobs.
That makes this is a gateway issue. “It’s a matter of
fundamental respect or disrespect for us,” says Eliseo Medina,
secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union. “In the last
election, Latinos felt the Republicans were being disrespectful. They can get
back to the level of about 40 percent among Latinos if they show that respect.”
The GOP will need to do more than just shift on
immigration, but without opening that gate, the party will surely continue to
lose ground, both nationally and in California, where Latinos are expected to
be the single largest ethnic group within the next year or two.
Copyright © 2011 by Santa Monica Mirror. All rights reserved.