House Republicans dooming 2016 nominee with Latino voters

House Republicans' hard line on immigration certainly plays well to the base, but it points to potentially significant problems ahead for the 2016 presidential election.

By , Guest blogger

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    Rep. Cory Gardner of Colorado is one of the few Republicans who has moderated his stand on immigration – in an effort to win a Senate seat.
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Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine argues that House Republicans seem to be acting as if they want whomever happens to win the Republican nomination in 2016 to lose the election:

Viewed from the standpoint of a year or even six months ago, Friday night’s House vote to deport some half-million immigrants who arrived illegally in the United States as children would have been unthinkable. After the 2012 election, an official Republican postmortem urged the party to embrace comprehensive immigration reform. Republicans in both chambers followed through on this advice. No less orthodox a figure than Paul Ryan toured around Chicago with Democrat Luis Gutierrez, where he was greeted enthusiastically by a mariachi band.

Comprehensive immigration reform has suffered a slow, painful death for months on end. For a while, it seemed Republicans might instead try to force Democrats to accept the quarter-of-a-loaf compromise of a Dream Act, which would legalize illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children (and, thus, personally blameless). Even that gambit foundered. The worst-case scenario then seemed to be that Republicans would do nothing at all to address the broken immigration system or the gulf of mistrust among Latino and Asian voters.

Now they have settled upon a course of action even worse than the worst-case scenario. The cause, of course, is the child-migrant crisis, which is driven by a combination of a badly written 2008 law and endemic violence in Central America, but which Republicans blame instead on President Obama’s granting of temporary amnesty to some Dream Act-eligible immigrants. When House conservatives revolted against a border security measure, the party leadership mollified them by holding a vote to nullify Obama’s dispensation for the Dreamers.

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A party that began the Congressional term hoping to move left from Mitt Romney’s immigration stance has instead moved toward Michele Bachmann’s. (Bachmann – who, along with Steve King, helped draft the House bill – pronounces herself thrilled.) The party’s new dogma will potentially entangle its next nominee in an even less humane debate than the one that ensnared Romney. At the very least, it has put 216 House Republicans, many of whom will one day seek higher office, on record for a policy most Latino voters consider disqualifying. The aye votes include potential 2016 presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who is not likely to be greeted by friendly mariachi bands any time soon.

Scott Bland and Alex Roarty at National Journal make a similar observation:

House Republicans’ bill to undo one of President Obama’s immigrant-protection programs will never become law. But it could still cause the GOP trouble in the next presidential election. To understand why, just look at how Rep. Cory Gardner voted on Friday night.

Faced with a similar vote in 2013, the Colorado Republican stuck with his party and voted to end the program. But this time, facing a tough Senate campaign in the one 2014 battleground state that most epitomizes a rapidly diversifying America, Gardner split from party leaders to oppose the GOP effort to kill the immigration program.

Gardner, who represents a safe Republican district, has modified several positions over the past year to better position himself to win statewide in Colorado, the tipping-point state in the last two presidential elections. He appears to be following the playbook most Republican political thinkers prescribe if the party hopes to attract the new voters necessary to retake the White House after a crushing disappointment in 2012.

But, as Friday’s House vote on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program demonstrated, most Republicans aren’t making similar changes to their immigration positions. And consequently, it’s unlikely the next GOP presidential nominee, put through the rigors of a hyper-competitive primary controlled largely by conservative activists, will have the same flexibility, given opposition to DACA is now thoroughly woven into orthodoxy. The party’s standard-bearer, in effect, will have to try to win Colorado after taking policy positions the state’s current GOP Senate nominee plainly thinks would hurt his chances at victory.

“Short-term, this is a lot tougher for Democrats than for us,” said Republican pollster Wes Anderson, referencing polls showing immigration hurting Democratic incumbents across the country in 2014. “Long-term? I think Sen. [Marco] Rubio’s experience with the issue has taught most Republicans to tread very lightly into these waters.”

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What happened Friday night is, in many ways, representative of how congressional Republicans have hurt their party’s attempts to win back the White House in 2016.

After the 2012 elections, Republicans declared with great urgency that the party must broaden its appeal to women and racial minorities or face near-permanent exclusion from the White House. But in the 21 months since that election, GOP lawmakers have gone the other way, whittling away at their party’s appeal among the voters a Republican candidate would need to take the White House.

“There are a number of things Republicans can do to be more open to courting Hispanics and courting women voters,” said Glen Bolger, a Republican strategist. “The question is, does the party have the willpower to do it? So far since 2012, the answer would have to be no.”

This isn’t a new story, of course. Republicans have gone fairly far downhill since 2004 when George W. Bush got 44 percent of the Latino vote  after getting 38 percent of that vote in 2000. Four years later, Sen. John McCain saw that number drop to 35 precent, which was lower than Mr. Bush had garnered but still somewhat respectable. By 2012, though, the number had dropped even further as Mitt Romney received just 27 percent of the Latino vote, nearly 20 percentage points less than a Republican nominee had received just eight years earlier. It’s not too hard to figure out what happened during that time period. Bush’s last term saw a large segment of his own party revolt against him in the effort to put together a comprehensive immigration reform package with the help of senators such as Ted Kennedy, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham. To some degree, McCain’s support for immigration reform, which nearly cost him the nomination in 2008, was the reason that he still managed to maintain a respectable level of support among Latino voters.

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After McCain, though, and especially more recently, the Republican Party has adopted policy positions that are clearly not helping them with Latino voters. On the broadest level, of course, the party’s inability to pass anything resembling immigration reform in the House stands as a pretty strong demonstration of where the party stands on something that Latino voters strongly support. More recently, the public statements that have come from Republicans regarding the Central American migrants that have arrived at the southern border over the past year or so, as well as the recent moves to try to repeal DACA which will go nowhere but are clearly intended mostly to just placate a Republican base that has become increasingly anti-immigrant, will no doubt only further serve to alienate Latino voters from the Republican Party. As it did in 2012, that will cause problems for whichever candidate wins the nomination in 2016 in states such as Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, and Virginia, and it will make it much harder for a Republican nominee to win in any of the other states that President Obama did in 2012, which they will have to do if they are going to get to 270 votes in the Electoral College.

If the actions of the House Republicans are any indication, it will be next to impossible for a candidate to win the Republican nomination in 2016 without taking an even harder line than Mitt Romney did in the 2012, when he made a name for himself by attacking Rick Perry for things such as supporting in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants and suggesting that people here illegally should “self-deport” rather than expect to obtain any kind of legal status. Perhaps the best signal of that is the fact that someone such as Jeb Bush, who has been calling on his party to moderate its positions on immigration for years, has already been written off by most conservatives. Even Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida, who was a darling of the tea party in 2010 when he took on then-Florida Gov. Charlie Crist for the Senate nomination, has seen his stock among the tea party crowd decline significantly since he supported the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill. With those two examples in front of them, along with the strong pressure that the base has applied toward Congress on issues such as immigration reform and DACA, does anyone actually think that a candidate for the GOP nomination in 2016 is going to even try to hint that they might be supportive of anything other than “border security” when it comes to immigration form?

Of course not. If anything, the Republican nominee will most likely be even more more strongly opposed to immigration reform, and therefore even more of a turnoff for Latino voters, than Romney was. Exactly how that is supposed to be the key to electoral success is beyond me.

Doug Mataconis appears on the Outside the Beltway blog at http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/.

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