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Memo to GOP: Friendly Advice on Immigration & Latino Voters

by Pili Tobar on 06/13/2012 at 1:53pm

More and more prominent conservatives are speaking out against the GOP’s current hardline anti-immigrant platform, while noting the link between that platform and the party’s dangerously low levels of support among Latino voters.  While the volume of friendly advice is increasing, Mitt Romney and Congressional Republican leaders have yet to show that they are listening.

Yesterday, a coalition of evangelical leaders launched an effort to convince their congregations as well as members of Congress that the nation needs to pass fair and reasonable immigration reform legislation.  The coalition includes Focus on the Family and other organizations traditionally allied with conservatives.  As the New York Times recapped:

Some of the nation’s most influential evangelical groups urged a solution to illegal immigration on Tuesday that defies the harsh rhetoric of the Republican primary race, which continues to undermine Mitt Romney’s appeal to Hispanic voters…The evangelical leaders expressed opposition to such notions as ‘self-deportation,’ which Mr. Romney favored in a Republican debate and which urges strict enforcement of laws to encourage illegal immigrant workers to leave the country.

As Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, stated:

This is the tipping point to finally convince Republican operatives that they must redeem the narrative on immigration reform in order to be a viable party in America’s political landscape in the 21st century.

Meanwhile, recent comments by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush on the subject of immigration continue to generate discussion.  At a breakfast sponsored by Bloomberg View in New York, former Governor Bush spoke of Mitt Romney’s challenges with Latino voters, saying:

There is work to do…I’d say that, if an objective teacher was grading where we are right now, I’d say ‘needs improvement’ – hopefully not an unfinished grade.

According to a recap of Bush’s remarks by Bloomberg News, Bush linked Romney’s poor polling among Latino voters to Romney’s hardline immigration stance, noting that “the Republican Party’s primary elections, in which the candidates’ debate about immigration centered on tougher border control rather than finding a way to accommodate millions of undocumented immigrants already in the U.S., has left the party with a challenge ahead of November’s elections.”  Bloomberg also wrote an editorial about Governor Bush’s comments:

The Republican Party seems to be in no mood for Bush nostalgia.  Perhaps its leaders should reconsider.  At a June 11 meeting with journalists sponsored by Bloomberg View, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush identified two issues on which an increasingly narrow Republican orthodoxy undermines the interests of the party and the nation. In each instance, at least one President Bush occupies the high ground, morally and politically.  The first is immigration…

However, conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat had a different reaction to Governor Bush’s comments.  Writing on the Times political blog, Douthat attacks the “conventional wisdom” that Hispanic voters care about immigration and that the GOP should moderate its positions in order to attract them.  Douthat cherry-picks from statistics to argue that some Latinos also care about other issues while other Latinos are actually hardliners on immigration, and claims that the Latino vote won’t even be a big factor in elections for another couple of decades.  Douthat’s thesis is a warmed-over version of the “they don’t care and they don’t count” argument advanced by such Latino “experts” as Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies.  It is comforting to GOP hardliners but misleading.  It overlooks the fact that George W. Bush won in 2004 in part because of his pro-immigration reform positions and his strength with Hispanic voters in the swing states of Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Florida.  It overlooks the fact that Barack Obama won those same states in 2008 in part because of his pro-immigration reform position and his strength with Hispanic voters.  It overlooks the fact that in 2010 Latino voters mobilized to vote for Democrats and against anti-immigrant candidates, thereby the U.S. Senate for Democrats.  And it overlooks a substantial body of polling from Latino Decisions which shows that immigration has emerged as a litmus test issue for the majority of Hispanic voters, trumping economic stands they might agree with in favor of candidates who are welcoming to Latino immigrants.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director here at America’s Voice:

We predict that coming out of the 2012 election leading Republicans will learn a hard truth: they will not see the inside of the White House again until they reopen diplomatic relations with Latino voters and sue for peace on immigration reform.  It’s heartening that Jeb Bush and evangelical leaders get it.  It’s now time for the other grownups in the Republican Party to get it.

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