GOP Soul Searching Could Spur Action on Immigration

Mitt Romney's rejection by Latinos could produce progress on immigration.

November 08, 2012, 1:33 PM

Nov. 8, 2012— -- Mitt Romney aimed his candidacy squarely at white people and therefore lost the country, which is less and less white, according to an emerging narrative about how he lost.

In particular, Romney lost the Latino vote by a significantly wide margin. Republicans failed to adapt to the changing country, the storyline goes. They chose a presidential candidate who distinguished himself during the Republican primary by tacking to the right, specifically on the issue of immigration.

"This issue has been around far too long," House Speaker John Boehner told Diane Sawyer two days after the election. "A comprehensive approach is long overdue, and I'm confident that the president, myself, others can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all."

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The narrative that Romney lost in part because of Latinos is supported by data points. Romney won white voters by a higher margin than anyone since Walter Mondale crushed Ronald Reagan in 1984. Romney lost Hispanics -- the nation's fastest-growing ethnic group -- by a larger margin than anyone since Robert Dole in 1996.

"This is a changing America, which makes a changing electorate, and I think that's the thing that President Obama was able to tap into," ABC political analyst Matthew Dowd said on "Good Morning America" Wednesday. "A lot of them were single women, younger voters, but especially the lower number of white voters and I think that, really, Mitt Romney couldn't overcome on Election Day.

"What's happened with the Republican Party is they are, the Republican Party, a 'Mad Men' party in a 'Modern Family' America and it just doesn't fit anymore."

Hispanics were 10 percent of voters this year, double digits for the first time.

How Republicans react could buoy prospects for a comprehensive immigration plan like the one President Obama promised Univision he would pursue next year.

It is short-sighted to suggest that the Republican Party is doomed in the long run because Romney lost the presidency in 2012. And while Democrats unquestionably do better at election time with voters of color, Republicans have made headway recruiting, promoting and electing Latinos to high-profile positions.

Democrats don't have any Latino governors; Republicans have two. Democrats have one Latino U.S. senator; so do Republicans. Democrats are better represented in the House of Representatives.

Romney made a point during the GOP primary of attacking challengers Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich for supporting a pathway to citizenship for some immigrants in the country illegally. Perry supports state-subsidized higher education for the children of such immigrants.

"If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they have been brought there by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart," Perry said in September 2011 at a Republican presidential debate.

Perry's views didn't get him the Republican presidential nomination, but they have made him the longest-serving Texas governor in a state with a significant Latino population (12 years). He won 34 percent of Latinos when he was re-elected in 2010 for the third time. Brian Sandoval, the Hispanic Republican governor of Nevada, won 33 percent of Latinos that same year.

There are four U.S. states with so-called majority minority populations: California, Texas, New Mexico and Hawaii.

Two of them – Texas and New Mexico - have Republican governors. The other two had a Republican governor until 2010. Arizona is not a majority-minority state, but it is close. Thirty-four percent of Hispanics went for Gov. Jan Brewer in 2010 at the height of debate about her controversial law that enabled local and state police to ask for proof of citizenship.

There are seven states in which more than 50 percent of the children born are nonwhite. They include Nevada, which has a Republican Latino governor, Florida, which has a Republican Latino senator, and Arizona.

Perry is not the only influential voice in the Republican Party pushing for a more moderate stance on immigration. Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor whose wife was born in Mexico, has not been shy about voicing his concerns on the perception that the GOP is anti-immigrant.

He is writing a book on immigration and argued on "Meet the Press" in August that it's possible for Republicans to change their tone without changing their core beliefs.

"I think people will move back towards the Republican side," he said. "But we've got to have a better tone going forward over the long haul for sure. You can't ask people to join your cause and then send a signal that you're really not wanted."

Romney's loss could spur a new focus on immigration overhaul. President Obama told Univision in September that his "greatest failure" was not passing such a comprehensive bill. And while he said he'd take responsibility for being naïve about his chances to pass such a proposal, the economy required him to focus on other things.

He promised to push anew for an immigration bill during the first year of his second term.

Read more about Obama's appearance on Univision.

Some Republicans are now speaking more favorably about working toward a comprehensive plan.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, has been pushing a bill that would allow more highly educated workers into the country.

He told Politico after the election, "It's clear to me, if Republicans are going to have the opportunity to be in the majority, we clearly have to determine how we deal with minority and Latino voters. In some fashion, the way we have dealt with immigration gives us a black eye. And we need to figure out how to talk about issues and pursue policies that matter to Latino, Hispanic voters."

A senator Obama supported the tortured and star-crossed bipartisan efforts to pass legislation in 2006 and 2007 under President Bush. And many high-profile Republican supporters of a comprehensive bill have changed their tune on the issue.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., had made immigration overhaul a priority before he ran for president. And he supported the bipartisan efforts to pass a bill that created a pathway for citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally. But he hardened on the issue during a 2010 bid for re-election.

The highest-profile Latino politician in the country is Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. He supports some version of the DREAM Act, which would enable the children of immigrants who are here illegally to stay in country.

But Rubio has already planned a trip to Iowa, raising suspicions that he might run for president. He'd face the same primary voters who forced Mitt Romney to the right last year.

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