Republicans Chasing An Hispanic Unicorn

Mariachi musicians sing and play serenadas as they go from house to house to encourage people to come to vote on election day in the predominantly Latino Sun Valley district of Los Angeles on November 6, 2012. From Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans to Cuban Americans, the more than 12 …
Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images

There is no greater political miscalculation, or fraud, than the notion that Republicans have to “moderate” their positions on immigration reform in order to appeal to Hispanic voters. This fiction began with President George W. Bush’s aborted attempt at comprehensive immigration reform in early 2007.

For almost a decade, the Republican party has interpreted losses at the ballot box as its inability to attract Hispanic voters. This, in turn, is blamed on segments of the conservative wing of the party whose rhetoric allegedly turns off Hispanic voters. When conservatives empower a Republican victory, as in 2004, 2010 or 2014, the win is dismissed as almost an aberration. Oh, that victory you have there is because Hispanics didn’t vote, Republican leaders imply.

When relaying their great Hispanic creation story, Republican myth-makers will point to a recent Gallup survey that found Hispanic voters really, really don’t like Donald Trump. Hispanic voters dislike Trump by a massive 51 points over those that do.

Given that Trump has been actively campaigned against Hispanic as a group, this is hardly surprising. More surprising is how little regard Hispanic voters seem to have for Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, who have made a more “moderate” tone on immigration the centerpieces of their appeal.

More than half of Hispanic voters aren’t even familiar with Marco Rubio, who was the public spokesman of amnesty legislation in the Senate two years ago. Rubio mentions his family’s migration to the United States in every political speech and virtually every media appearance. Yet, his net-favorability with Hispanics is just 5 points.

Jeb Bush is fluent in Spanish, regularly gives Spanish language interviews and speeches and always points out that his wife is Mexican. A stereotypical WASP, Bush seems to think it is particularly noteworthy to mention repeatedly that he married a Mexican citizen. He proudly states in interviews that he and his wife speak Spanish at home more than English.

Yet, only 57 percent of Hispanic voters are even familiar with Jeb Bush, even though both his brother and father made amnesty major priorities of their time in office. Just one-third of Hispanics have a favorable view of the younger Bush. His net-positive rating is just 11 points.

A new poll from Quinnipiac finds both Rubio and Bush losing badly to Clinton among Hispanic voters. Clinton beats Bush by 20 points among Hispanics. Rubio loses Hispanics to Clinton by 29 points.

Rubio earns just a quarter of the Hispanic vote, while Bush wins 35 percent. And Donald Trump? He wins 21 percent of the Hispanic vote against Clinton. The favorable view of Rubio and Bush by Hispanics is an order of magnitude better than Trump’s, but their difference in a head-to-head match up against Clinton is slight.

Bush and Rubio’s political impulse to appeal to Hispanic voters doesn’t translate into support for them in a general, but it is greatly diminishing their appeal among conservatives. One would be hard-pressed to find a greater political miscalculation.

The uncomfortable truth for the Republican party is that Hispanic voters are Democrats, almost regardless of a Republican’s position on immigration.

In 1988, George H. W. Bush lost Hispanic voters by 40 points to Democrat Michael Dukakis. This election was just 2 years after Reagan and Bush had enacted the sweeping 1986 amnesty law. That law legalized millions of illegal immigrants with a promise of increased enforcement that never materialized.

If ever the Republican myth that Hispanics will vote Republican if only the party champions amnesty were to apply, it would have been that election. In the next election, Bush won 25 percent of the Hispanic vote, while Ross Perot won 14 percent.

The high-water mark for Republicans and the Hispanic vote was 2004, when President Bush scored an impressive 44 percent of their vote against John Kerry. That election turned principally on national security and, in many states, opposition to same-sex marriage. Immigration, much less immigration reform, didn’t factor into the campaign in any way.

The political history seems clear that the Hispanic vote can be up for grabs, unless immigration and immigration reform are major issues. In 2006, Republicans won 30 percent of the Hispanic vote. Two years later, John McCain, who was a leading champion of immigration reform in the Senate, won just 31 percent of the Hispanic vote. In 2012, Mitt Romney, who campaigned aggressively against illegal immigration and called for illegals to “self-deport” won 27 percent of the Hispanic vote.

Rubio is actually trailing Romney’s eventual Hispanic vote.

As the Hispanic share of the electorate increases, the strong bias of Hispanics to vote Democrat will present a huge challenge to the Republican party. The truth, though, is that Hispanics seemingly are immune to any Republican message on immigration. With the exception of the national security election in 2004, the Republican share of the Hispanic vote has been steady, regardless of where the party stood on the question of amnesty.

Future political scientists will marvel at the Republican party’s stubborn insistence that it should ignore its base supporters and push forward to greatly expanding the number of voters who are preternaturally disposed to vote for the other party.

But, then, we often marvel at our ancestors insistence that fairies are real and pixie dust could make us fly.


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