GOP Soul Searching Could Spur Action on Immigration

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

ByABC News
November 8, 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."

Get Full 2012 Election Results

Read More on 2012 Exit Polls

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.