Tomorrow, it will have been one year since the Republican National Committee (RNC) issued a post-election autopsy analyzing the GOP’s shortcomings in 2012 and making recommendations on how the GOP can ensure a different outcome in future presidential elections. Notably, the RNC autopsy captured that the Republican Party’s historically low performance with Latino voters in 2012 was a direct result of taking policy positions like Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation” approach to undocumented immigration, and not simply a problem of tone and outreach. In fact, the one policy position the RNC autopsy specifically championed was its embrace of immigration reform:
We must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform….If Hispanic Americans hear that the GOP doesn’t want them in the United States, they won’t pay attention to our next sentence. It doesn’t matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think that we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies. In essence, Hispanic voters tell us our Party’s position on immigration has become a litmus test, measuring whether we are meeting them with a welcome mat or a closed door.
Fast forward one year. Despite the fact that House Republicans have clearly failed to implement the report’s sole policy recommendation, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus is nonetheless stating that the GOP has made “progress” in meeting the vision outlined by the autopsy report. In an interview with Politico, Priebus highlighted that the RNC has made a series of hires tasked with “engaging minority groups” as an example of their progress – exactly the type of tone-not-policy change that the autopsy report recognized as insufficient.
Regarding immigration policy substance, Priebus cited consensus among a range of potential 2016 presidential contenders:
What you have to recognize, which is an absolute truth, is that there is consensus with the Republican caucus that serious immigration reform has to happen…Doing nothing isn’t an option.
Yet “doing nothing” captures the current Republican posture. Less than a week after Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced principles for immigration reform, he slammed the breaks on reform. It seems his caucus thinks that voting on immigration might hurt their chances of a good mid-term election. Despite the wishful thinking of some Republicans, the notion that the GOP can block immigration reform in 2014 and successfully take it up in 2015 – when they hope to have both the House and the Senate – is a pipedream (as we outline here). This means that the Republican Party will likely head into the 2016 cycle having rejected the one policy issue recommended by the RNC autopsy – risking an electoral tsunami up and down the 2016 ballot as a result.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice,
Since last year’s report, the Republican Party began to open the door to Latinos rhetorically, only to again slam the door in their faces.
The consequences of inaction are predictable. If House Republicans continue to block immigration reform this year, they will cede the initiative to President Obama to take bold executive action for undocumented immigrants. Such a scenario would be a disaster for the Republican Party, cementing a distinction between the parties that would last a generation.
Autopsy is exactly the right word to describe the GOP’s progress on changing its anti-immigrant brand image over the past year.