The Republican coroners dissecting Mitt Romney's campaign will likely submit competing diagnoses for what ultimately did him in, but at this point many of them seem to agree that the GOP's refusal to court Hispanics is a top contender.
"If we don't do better with Hispanics we're going to be out of the White House forever," said Republican strategist Ana Navarro as the networks were projecting Romney's loss. This morning, the Wall Street Journal chided Romney for "failing to appeal more creatively to minority voters," and concluded that "The GOP needs to leave its anti-immigration absolutists behind."
Obama would have lost if the Hispanic vote had been split evenly (as opposed to 75-23 in Obama's favor), and that's going to be the case in every election going forward. As John Zogby notes, "the white percentage of the vote will only continue to decline with each new election."
In the wake of last night's loss, Republican Senator, Romney surrogate, and Hispanic person Marco Rubio proposed a vague idea:
"In the next Congress, I am committed to working on upward mobility policies that will ensure people who work hard and play by the rules can rise above the circumstances of their birth and leave their children better off," the Florida Republican continued.
"The conservative movement should have particular appeal to people in minority and immigrant communities who are trying to make it, and Republicans need to work harder than ever to communicate our beliefs to them. I look forward to working on these goals with my new and returning colleagues in Congress and hope the president will get behind our efforts."
Republicans actually did a pretty good job of communicating their beliefs. When offered Jon Huntsman, Gary Johnson, and Rick Perry–three small-government candidates who were also aware of the importance of Hispanic voters–Republicans instead nominated a candidate who thinks illegal immigrants should deport themselves.
This decision, notes Politico's Jonathan Martin, cost the GOP big time: "In 2004, George W. Bush won 44 percent of Hispanics. Four years later, John McCain, the author of an immigration reform bill, took 31 percent of Hispanics. And this year, Romney captured only 27 percent of Hispanics."
What I suspect Rubio and like-minded Republicans are actually saying–especially when they talk about creating an environment where people "can rise above the circumstances of their birth"–is that the GOP needs to change its policies, rather than do a better job of selling the ones it has. Writing at National Review Online, Heather Mac Donald simultaneously argues that Hispanics won't take the GOP as it is, and that the changes required aren't worth it:
It is not immigration policy that creates the strong bond between Hispanics and the Democratic party, but the core Democratic principles of a more generous safety net, strong government intervention in the economy, and progressive taxation.
A March 2011 poll by Moore Information found that Republican economic policies were a stronger turn-off for Hispanic voters in California than Republican positions on illegal immigration. Twenty-nine percent of Hispanic voters were suspicious of the Republican party on class-warfare grounds — "it favors only the rich;" "Republicans are selfish and out for themselves;" "Republicans don't represent the average person"– compared with 7 percent who objected to Republican immigration stances.
[A] strong reason for that support for big government is that so many Hispanics use government programs. U.S.-born Hispanic households in California use welfare programs at twice the rate of native-born non-Hispanic households. And that is because nearly one-quarter of all Hispanics are poor in California, compared to a little over one-tenth of non-Hispanics. Nearly seven in ten poor children in the state are Hispanic, and one in three Hispanic children are poor, compared to less than one in six non-Hispanic children. One can see that disparity in classrooms across the state, which are chock full of social workers and teachers' aides trying to boost Hispanic educational performance.
In light of what it would cost the GOP to court the Hispanic vote, Mac Donald concludes that "a Republican party that purports to stand for small government and free markets faces an uncertain future." To which the obvious reply is: The Hispanic vote is growing whether Republicans embrace it or not. With its relevance (and down the road, existence) at stake, the GOP should probably find a way to sell small government and free markets to people who could–judging by Mac Donald's own observations–benefit from both.