The results of the Fox News Latino exclusive poll on likely Latino voters suggest 2012 may be a make or break year for Republicans with this growing segment of the electorate. Voting has a certain evolutionary aspect, with a person’s partisan leanings growing over time. Nearly five decades ago, the Republican presidential nominee, knowing white voters in the Deep South were unhappy with the civil rights movement, abandoned the “Party of Lincoln” posture long attractive to many African-Americans. He cast one of the few GOP votes against the 1964 Civil Rights Law. Since then, African-American Democratic loyalty strengthened, leaving the GOP with hopes of only a small share on election day.
This circumstance has dismayed leading GOP campaign experts. But are they now making the same mistake with Latino voters, the fastest rising part of the electorate. President George W. Bush warned Republican leaders about adopting a “deport them all” position on undocumented immigrants. Until this GOP primary season, many Republican Party platforms and presidential candidates have been carefully modulated on this hot button issue. But the GOP presidential hopefuls still running this year have gone very hard line, although former Speaker Newt Gingrich did try to offer a less ideologically rigid stance until being booed at a televised debate. Since then, he has said little on the subject.
Last month, we wrote here on how the issue of illegal immigration threatened to eventually turn the GOP into the Whig Party, which elected the President by a good margin in 1840, yet took the wrong position on slavery, causing it to disappear by 1860. Abraham Lincoln had been the Whig Senate candidate from Illinois in 1854. But two years later, he jumped to the new Republican Party.
We don’t believe the GOP is in danger of disappearing as fast as the Whigs. But a look at the Fox News Latino poll suggests the party could become a permanent non-factor in the Latino community after this November. Such an outcome would make the GOP a permanent underdog in presidential elections. This possibility seems to have been ignored by the GOP given the assumption that many Latino voters are socially conservative. Thus, some in the party leadership believe the party has a natural opening to improve its standing with Latinos in the future.
The data not only demonstrate deep Latino Democratic leanings, they suggest the following: If President Barack Obama delivers on his promise to pass major immigration legislation, that will cement a permanent, unbreakable Democratic advantage with Latino Americans. It will never be as overwhelming as the party’s support among African-Americans. But given Latino population growth, it will be even more politically deadly for the GOP in the long run. The poll also shows that immigration policy is the one area where Latinos fault the President right now. This finding does not mean they are enamored with Obama on all the “bread and butter” issues, nor does it overlook the conservative leanings of Latino voters on key social issues. Furthermore, there are differences between Latinos born in the United States and those native to other countries. Like all Americans, there are differences in political outlook among family members.
But the Fox News Latino poll is clear: Republicans are courting electoral disaster by ceding immigration reform to the President’s party. Exit polls from the Republican primaries further substantiate this fact. Take the state of Florida, a must-win GOP state where illegal immigration is a hot button issue. Or Arizona, where illegal immigration is the overriding issue.
Exit polls from those states refute the harsh pro-deportation stance held by some in the GOP elite, and their leading candidates, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. In the white GOP primary electorate of both states, only 3 in 10 of the party faithful supported a “deport them all” approach. Better than 1 in 3 want to give most illegal immigrants a “chance to apply for citizenship” and nearly 3 in 10 support giving them at least the opportunity to stay as temporary workers.
If white Republican primary voters overwhelmingly reject a harsh, pro-deportation policy, it doesn’t take a math wizard to understand that the GOP risks going the way of the Whig Party with Latino voters. Nominating Romney or Santorum risks pushing the Latino vote into the Democratic Party for the next 50 years should the President win election and then deliver on his promise of immigration reform.
Paul Goldman is a lawyer and former Chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party. Mark J. Rozell is a Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University and co-author of the forthcoming book, “The President’s Czars: Undermining Congress and the Constitution.”