Why the GOP attack on ObamaCare will hurt Republicans with Latinos

As the GOP continues its assault on the Affordable Care Act, immigration reform is being left behind

House Speaker Boehner
(Image credit: (T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images))

Just a year ago, after Latinos helped President Obama secure a second term and Democrats retain the Senate, Republicans seemed poised to support a comprehensive immigration bill in an effort to woo one of the fastest-growing minorities in the country. But the botched health care rollout has given the GOP other ideas about how to appeal to voters in 2014 — a strategy that could put them further at odds with Latino constituents.

In preparation for the 2014 midterms, Republicans have decided to double down on attacking the Affordable Care Act. Party strategists distributed a memo this week detailing various talking points that include telling voters that their premiums are going to rise, that their personal information on Healthcare.gov isn’t secure, and that health care reform is hurting job creation.

These are all arguments they’ve made before, but now they will be coordinated and based on anecdotes from those affected by the law. As The New York Times reported, the strategy is to use those stories “to open a line of attack, keep it going until it enters the public discourse and forces a response, [and] then quickly pivot to the next topic.”

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Given that large swaths of the electorate are still firmly anti-ObamaCare, this might be a winning game plan for certain independent voters. But it probably won’t work with Latino voters, who favor health care reform by wide margins. Close to a third of Latinos lack health insurance, and the Affordable Care Act is expected to help nine million Latinos get coverage. (Only 11 percent of white Americans are uninsured.) Polling has consistently shown that a majority of Latinos support the law, don’t want it repealed, and think the government should play a role in helping people gain access to health care.

Republicans are going to have a two-fold problem when they face Latino voters next year. If they continue to vilify health care reform, they will create an even wider chasm with Latinos who pulled the lever for Obama by a 3-to-1 margin in 2012. More importantly, however, now that they have intensified their focus on ObamaCare, Republicans have also signaled that immigration reform will be on the back burner for the foreseeable future.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), the third-ranking Republican in the House, said in early November that voting on immigration reform will have to wait until next year. When exactly those votes will take place remains unclear. A handful of immigration bills that mostly focus on border security and enforcement have passed the Judiciary Committee, but the GOP leaders in the House haven’t yet scheduled floor votes for any of them.

Republicans appeared to be abandoning their outreach to Latinos even before the Healthcare.gov debacle unfolded in early October. Immigration reform has floundered in the House for months even though the Senate in June passed a comprehensive measure that included a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has ruled out ever going to conference on the Senate’s bill.

Much of the conservative base is still firmly against immigration reform and believes that those who came here illegally should be deported, not given legal status. The GOP's strategic pivot away from immigration reform will allow Republicans to cater to this increasingly white and aging portion of the electorate. Of course, if demographic trends hold, the GOP will find it harder to win state-wide and national elections, but Republicans don’t seem too concerned with the long-term effects of their strategy.

One thing is clear, though. Wherever the GOP goes from here, it’s becoming less and less likely Latino voters will go with them.

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