After the 2008 election, I wrote that if Latinos continue to turn out at the same rate, there may never be another Republican president. Not unless the GOP becomes a much different party than it has been since 2005-2006. That was when a wave of anti-immigration vitriol swept over the party faithful, driving it to abandon the inclusive, pragmatic and compassionate policies of George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. Even reformers like Senator John McCain reversed themselves, turning from big-tent Republicans into paranoid Xenophobes driven to make illegal immigration the center-piece of their domestic agenda.
Fueled by talk radio, the GOP and particularly what became its Tea Party wing promoted visions of a brown tsunami of Latinos breaking over our southern border to steal our jobs and rape our women. The anti-immigration hysteria was never based on fact. It was as much a product of post 9/11/01 fear of foreigners as it was a harsh over-reaction to the massive demographic changes within the United States. Latinos were becoming the nation’s largest minority, approaching fifty million people, many of them youngsters born in the United States.
Rather than appeal to these new Americans based on shared conservative values like patriotism, marriage, service, faith, and entrepreneurial spirit, Republicans seemed to vie with each other over which could present views that were more unpleasant to Latinos. Even after a surge in Latino voting in 2010 saved the Senate for the Democrats by helping defeat Meg Whitman in California and Sharron Angle in Nevada, still the GOP dug in its heels.
And during this election cycle Mr. Nice Guy Mitt Romney led the anti-immigrant mob. During the primary campaign, he crippled the candidacies of Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry by portraying them as weak on the undocumented. All Speaker Gingrich wanted to do was to allow for a statute of limitations after which a long-term undocumented immigrant could find a path to legitimacy. All Governor Perry wanted to do was provide in-state tuition for young students brought here innocently by their parents.
Mr. Romney excoriated both rivals as weak; appeasers who would grant amnesty to law-breakers. Conveniently ignoring facts like the dramatic decline in illegal immigration, and the federal statistics showing the relative lawfulness of the undocumented, he thundered about the need to create conditions so draconian that 12 million of them would self-deport.
In the process, the governor helped cast a pall over the entire Latino population, legal and illegal alike. It wasn’t enough that he had Florida senator Marco Rubio at his side, or that his son Craig had learned Spanish while a missionary in Chile. Those gestures were seen as window dressing by a community more interested in deeds.
For example, when President Obama finally got around to doing something about the immigration issue, ordering a modified DREAM Act that allowed for a moratorium on the deportation of those innocent students brought here by their parents, Governor Romney promised that if elected he would veto any such legislation. He drafted Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State who wrote Arizona’s harsh SB1070 “show me your papers” law to be his immigration guru. He embraced Kobach’s 2012 GOP party platform that allowed only enforcement and deportation as solutions to the problem of immigration. And in the process, he sealed his own political doom.
More than 12 million citizen Latinos showed up to vote yesterday, a 26 percent increase over 2008. The Romney camp spoke of its ambition to win well more than the meager 31 percent of the Latino vote scored by John McCain in 2008. Their goal was 38 percent. They failed miserably.
Between 75 percent-79 percent of Latinos voted for President Barack Obama; 21 percent-25 percent for Mitt Romney.
Even in Marco Rubio’s Florida, where Latinos were 15 percent of total voters, exit surveys indicate that as many as 68 percent voted for President Obama. And remember, George W. Bush won a majority of Latino votes in 2004.
In another crucial swing state Colorado, 11 percent of all voters were Latino and they voted for the president by a 50-point margin.
When he won in 2008 in large measure because of the Latino vote, I dubbed Barack Obama our first Latino president. He has been re-elected by that same community. Now it is time for the GOP to join him and Democrats in coming to grips with an issue that requires compassion and pragmatism as much as vigilance and border enforcement. Otherwise, Republicans will never elect another president.