The Republicans and Immigration Reform Redux

Now, perhaps there are unforeseen events that will permanently help the GOP among Latinos and that have nothing to do with immigration reform politics in 2013.  But if I’m the GOP, what I’d bet on is this: “We’ll be more likely to win presidential elections if we win more Latino votes.”  (And if that seems obvious, read Sean Trende’s counterpoint. Not everyone agrees.)  And supporting immigration reform, in turn, will make that more likely.

That was from yesterday’s post on why I think the GOP is better off getting behind immigration reform.  In response, Jay Cost and Sean Trende tweeted:


Cost is right in his initial tweet.  That was sloppy writing on my part about Trende’s argument about Latinos, which he has elaborated here and here.  But, despite the fact that the three of us are all skeptics that Democratic dynasty in the White House is imminent, I do think our opinions differ here—enough that I was surprised that both agreed with my post.  Here is where I think we differ:

1) While we agree that Latinos are not yet “locked in” as part of the Democratic base, Trende and Cost are more sanguine about the need for the GOP to appeal to Latinos.  Both Cost and Trende have emphasized that a (the?) key to understanding 2012 is what they allege are “missing white voters.” Thus, they argue, the GOP can succeed in national electoral politics—for at least a while—by shoring up its support among white voters and betting that black turnout will decline without Obama on the ticket.  (See Trende here.  Cost agrees here.  See also this rejoinder from Nate Cohn and two rejoinders from Ruy Teixeira and Alan Abramowitz.)  But I think a broader appeal to Latinos is a better bet for ensuring Republican electoral success in the long run—and it will take work on the GOP’s part beginning now.

2) Trende downplays the significance of immigration to Hispanics, arguing that other issues matter more to them and that not all Hispanics even agree with the liberal or Democratic view on immigration reform.  He suggests that Hispanics will affiliate with a party in similar ways as white voters, and not because of each party’s immigration policies per se.  I am less sure of that.  My post hypothesized a different causal process—one in which Latino voters, many of whom are unaffiliated with a party, take signals from opinion leaders about which party “stands with them.”  (I should note that voters of all ethnicities take signals from opinion leaders about all kinds of things, so I am not suggesting that Latinos are unique here.  What makes them unique is that, like many immigrant populations, more of them have weaker partisan attachments to begin with.)  In general, I don’t think most voters make decisions based on calculations about the details of policy.  But I do think that they often respond to broader “symbolic” messages—in this case, “is that party for us or against us?”

I’m not suggesting that all Latinos will end up believing the GOP is against them.  I’m not suggesting that there aren’t some Latinos who now identify or will identify as Republicans for other reasons.  I’m not suggesting that the GOP won’t win larger numbers of Latino voters in individual elections than they did in 2012 because of cyclical factors like the economy or idiosyncratic factors like the particular candidates who are running.  I’m just suggesting that the GOP should be asking itself, “How do we convert some of these unaffiliated Latino voters into habitual Republican voters?”  And that takes more than economic growth or, say, nominating Marco Rubio.

3) Thus, I think that supporting comprehensive immigration reform is a necessary, though not sufficient, step for the GOP to accomplish that goal.  Immigration may not be every Latino’s highest priority but, again, I see that issue as important to winning over at least some Latino voters and many Latino opinion leaders.  I don’t perceive that Cost and Trende oppose immigration reform per se, although Cost is certainly opposed to the Senate bill.  I just see them as assigning immigration reform a relatively low priority.  Here is Trende:

The GOP and Democrats should pursue the policies they believe are best for the country. If they govern competently, the coalitions will take care of themselves.

Right now, the the majority of Republicans in Congress seems to think that the best policy is not comprehensive immigration reform as it is currently envisioned—e.g., with a path to citizenship, etc.  (That could be wrong, however, for the reasons Jon Bernstein suggests.) So if I’m interpreting Trende and Cost correctly, they are giving the GOP license to do something that I think is more likely to hurt the GOP’s appeal among Latinos than help it.

5 Responses to The Republicans and Immigration Reform Redux

  1. Chris July 12, 2013 at 11:40 am #

    A big problem for R amnesty advocates is that “immigration” is not a one-time issue. Even if Schumer-Rubio is enacted, you’d then have another fight (with a much bigger hispanic constituency) pushing for expanding citizenship and healthcare/welfare benefit eligibility. Rather than setting aside the problem for Rs, immigration amnesty would open a political conversation that’s likely to be even more damaging for them with the hispanic community.

    It would also be helpful if analysts distinguished between cuban and non-cuban hispanics when assessing the demo. Hispanics are increasingly non-cuban, and therefore the group increasingly leans D.

    Non-cuban hispanics are one of the most left-wing voting blocs in the country (5/6 D iirc) — and they are even on the leftward side of the Democratic Party. Look at heavily D parts of the country like NYC or DC, where you have 2-horse races for mayor. Hispanics overwhelmingly favor the more left-wing candidate (opposing the moderates Fenty in DC and Bloomberg in NYC).

    The marginal vote bloc closest to the reach of Rs is lower middle class whites. Non-cuban hispanics are just as far from Rs as evangelical small business owners are from Ds. It’s silly for Rs to assume they’re the shortest path to a majority.

  2. Jay Cost July 12, 2013 at 3:51 pm #


    Thanks for the thoughtful post. A point that I have been considering that usually does not get much play comes from E.E. Schattschneider’s Semi-Sovereign People: who is identifying the issues to be discussed? Who also is deciding the set of policy alternatives to deal with them? In particular — are these actors who are setting the agenda operating with the best interests of the Republican Party in mind? And, if not, what does that say about the GOP’s best move on this issue?

    My perspective on this issue for Republicans is that it is a similar “trap” that Democrats have historically faced when they try to appeal to the values voters. They will never get to the right of the GOP on God, guns, gays, abortion, etc. Republicans will only bank the concessions then ask for more. In fact, the GOP loves it when the Dems try to play on this turf because it only favors them. And time and again Republicans have tried to goad Democrats into dealing on those issues.

    In the case of the GOP, the argument I have heard again and again is that the electoral (rather tha policy) implications of CIR is that it would help Republicans with Hispanics. That is an argument based on identity politics, which historically help Democrats. That’s not always been the case, obviously, but at the very least we can say that the GOP is not capable of getting to the left of the Democrats on such issues, making it very difficult for the party to broaden its appeal based on pursuing that tack.

    Republicans, of course, mostly know this, which leads me back to Schattschneider: why is *this* issue, of all the issues, the one being defined as a salve for what ails the GOP? You can slice and dice the demographic and raw vote data in an infinite number of ways, and discover the same thing, again and again: Obama won and Romney lost. So, why not examine the problem from the perspective of religiosity, or of income, or of socioeconomic status, to decide what Republicans should do differently? Why ethnicity?

    And after we have answered that question, why is CIR the solution to this problem?

    And after we have answered *that* question, why is the Schumer-Rubio bill the particular policy reform to be implemented? Take all these questions together, *precisely who* has framed this choice: “GOP can either back Schumer-Rubio or risk losing Hispanics.”

    In all of these questions, the answer invariably comes back, at least in part: this is what is good for the Democratic party’s policy agenda. The narrowing of the range of options to “help the GOP” has been determined, at least somewhat, by politicos whose electoral interests are perfectly opposed to Republicans, and pundits who will never vote Republican even if the GOP does what they are asking.

    My perspective is that as a policy matter, CIR is a good thing. Under certain circumstances, I would support a path to citizenship. But as a political matter, its electoral effects are much more complicated, and I am not at all convinced that it aids the GOP electorally at all — short or long term. Indeed I think this whole debate is something of a rigged game, as the questions about the long term viability of the GOP are being asked and answered — in part — by Democrats.

    My particular vision for a GOP future follows along the lines of the Bush coalition of 2004, the most religiously and ethnically diverse coalition the GOP has put together in its history. And probably the most economically diverse since 1972. Returning to, and expanding, that coalition is the most obvious path back to majority on a presidential level. And for me this is where Rubio-Schumer is a step backward for the GOP because it hurts wages and it raises unemployment, the very sort of “kitchen table” issues the GOP should be focusing on.

    Put another, Republicans *absolutely* need to do better with Hispanics. And they *absolutely* need to do better with whites, especially those on the lower strata of society. How does a bill that lowers wages and increases unemployment and only cuts the flow of illegal labor (which hurts low skilled legal labor) in half designed to accomplish that?


  3. Jerry Skurnik July 12, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

    While Jay Cost is correct that Dems did not help themselves in their try to appeal to the values voters, they did help themselves on other traditionally Republican issues like welfare reform, crime & national defense. While it’s hard, Republicans shouldn’t assume that trying to appeal on Dem issues is always a trap.

  4. TheSteelGeneral July 27, 2013 at 10:03 am #

    Amazing. Jay Cost asks who sets the agenda, and has thereby fallen into trap of … whining. About REALITY. His long post comes down to an unwillingness to acknowledge the fact that you LOST, TWICE, to a COMMUNITY organizer, who wasn’t president of the Harvard Business Review (or was he?)

    He asks, why isn’t religiosity, or income, or socioeconomic status important? Weeeeeell, because they aren’t. Deal with it. Also, we’re not gonna tell you. Do your own work.

    Why are you people losing with Latino’s?
    The answer comes from two responses on

    Devan at 6:14 pm
    “What is never discussed is how turned off Hispanics are becoming with the ever more radical and perverted agenda of the Democrat party….as many blacks already are (and loudly switching to the Repubslican party)”
    Devan at 6:16 pm, two minutes later:
    “The majority of central and South Americans coming here have a Che Guevera mentality and will NEVER vote for fundamental American principles and beliefs”

    The majority of repubs have NO problem whatsoever holding these two religious beliefs in their head at the same time.

  5. TheSteelGeneral July 27, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    Also: Repubs have gambled that whites are are as racist as they are (Ya ya, I know, you’re NOT racist, but you KEEP voting to withhold cash and help from poor blacks while giving that money to rich whites … yawn)

    Whites, turned out not to be as racist as all that.
    The other matter of absolute conviction was the usual thinking that blacks would be too lazy to go vote. Several repub pollsters adjusted their predictions by decreasing the amount of blacks in their predictions. All that screeching of skewing the polls turned out to be projection, because repub pollster did that themselves.

    Even now, Repub pundits think that blacks won’t go vote in 2016 just because Obama won’t be on the ticket. Thinking that blacks hate Hillary Clinton, now there’s a winning strategy. Ya gotta admire that amount of self-deception.

    Have you people EVER wondered why Asians and Jews vote MORE Democratic than Latinos?