Feature

Immigration: Can the GOP win as the White Party?

Maybe the Republican Party doesn’t need Hispanics after all.

Maybe the Republican Party doesn’t need Hispanics after all, said Sean Trende in RealClearPolitics.com. After President Obama beat Mitt Romney 71 to 27 percent among the fast-growing Hispanic demographic in the 2012 election, some panicked GOP leaders decided they had to embrace immigration reform, or “never win another election.” But a detailed analysis of all the data from that election suggests there might be another path to future victories. In 2012, the white turnout was depressed; about 6.5 million expected white votes failed to materialize, and most of them were “downscale, Northern, rural” voters likely to heavily favor the Republican candidate. If Republicans can excite lower-income white voters struggling in this economy with a message of “economic populism,” then come 2016, the GOP’s chances actually look pretty good even without Hispanics—especially with no Obama on the ballot to galvanize minority turnout. Liberals like “to mock the GOP as the ‘Party of White People.’” But with non-Hispanic whites still making up about 63 percent of the population—and white voters increasingly leaning Republican—“from a purely electoral perspective, that’s not a terrible thing to be.”

You’ve got the math wrong, said Nate Cohn in The New Republic. Not every white voter who skipped the 2012 election was going to vote Republican. In fact, if 40 percent voted for Obama, Romney still would have lost big. And it won’t be easy for Republicans to increase Romney’s record 60 percent share among white voters. Yes, whites are becoming more reliable Republican voters in the solid red states in the South and Appalachia. But in swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Colorado, many working-class white voters see the GOP as the party of the rich and are voting for Democrats. Meanwhile, the non-white share of the electorate is increasing by 2 percent every year. Like it or not, “this country is heading toward a multi-ethnic future,” said David Brooks in The New York Times. If the GOP-controlled House kills the immigration reform package approved by the Senate, the party will brand itself as “the receding roar of a white America that is never coming back.” That’s “political suicide.’’

There’s another major flaw in the GOP’s All-White Fantasy, said Paul Krugman, also in the Times.Its policies are overtly hostile to the white working class. “Economic populism” may sound nice as a catchphrase, but “if you look at what the modern Republican Party actually stands for in practice,” it’s to cut taxes for the rich, and shred the safety net by cutting unemployment insurance, food stamps, and Medicaid—all of which heavily benefit lower-income whites. The other problem Republicans may find, said Michael Tomasky in TheDailyBeast.com, is that “white people—yep, even working-class white people—are going to get less conservative in coming years.” Whites from the Millennial generation are appalled by the GOP’s overt hostility toward immigrants, gays, and professional women. Until the GOP embraces social change, it will continue to alienate young people; meanwhile, its aging Tea Party cohort will be dying off.

Whether or not the GOP can boost its support among white voters, said Mark Krikorian in NationalReview.com, it certainly can’t afford to lose their support. That’s what will happen if Republicans cave in on immigration reform, and give amnesty to 11 million illegal immigrants. The Republican base vehemently opposes legalization, and a GOP reversal on this critical issue would badly damage “the Republican brand among the very people it’s being marketed to.” At the same time, legalization would eventually turn 11 million illegal immigrants into lifetime Democratic voters. That would be “an electoral catastrophe for Republicans.”

Face it—Republicans are “caught in a vise,” said Thomas Edsall in The New York Times. Currently, the party heavily relies on its loyal base of culturally conservative white voters. But the GOP’s only hope of staying viable in the future is to start making inroads with minorities and young voters, which can only be accomplished by becoming more culturally liberal on issues like immigration. Like the Democrats of the 1970s and ’80s, the Republican Party has moved too far to one side of the political spectrum, and needs to edge back to the center. Smart Republicans know this, and are calling for Republicans to adapt to a changing America. “The question is, how long will it have to suffer the humiliation of defeat before it begins the process in earnest?”

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