January 28, 2015
By Richard Parker
With no fewer than two Texans and a pair of Hispanics interested in the presidency, the Republican Party is starting to think that maybe, just maybe, 2016 is the year it can win over Hispanics and, by extension, the White House.
After all, Ted Cruz and Rick Perry have succeeded in Texas, where Hispanics are already the largest ethnic group. Republicans did well in 2014 in New Mexico and Colorado. Marco Rubio is interested in being president. What could possibly go wrong?
One word: immigration.
In the new Congress, the first order of business is opposing President Barack Obama’s controversial executive order slowing deportations. The second order of business is another bloated bill spending billions on the Mexican border. The presidential hopefuls have kowtowed to the House’s biggest immigrant basher. It seems that being against Mexicans, to be blunt, is the new litmus test for being a conservative Republican politician.
First, a little history: Shortly after George H.W. Bush was elected president in 1988, I wound up in the office of Lee Atwater, the ruthless but amiable genius who engineered the election. He enthusiastically explained how the Republican Party could attract Hispanic voters. After all, Ronald Reagan had just signed a comprehensive immigration law. It sounded plausible, but then two things happened: Bush was defeated and Atwater died. The idea languished.
That is, until George W. Bush came along. As Texas governor, he spent time on education and appointed more Hispanics to government than Democrats had. He netted about 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. As president, before 9/11, he wanted to make Mexico the centerpiece of his foreign policy.
Later, he backed another sweeping overhaul of immigration laws that failed. One of his last acts was to ban the automatic deportation of Central American children who arrived here without parents. Cultivating ties to Mexico, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans was popular with business, and it resulted in political rewards. But by the time Bush was on his way out, his party was headed in the opposite direction.
In 2008, tea party conservatives punished John McCain for his complicity in the failed immigration overhaul. In 2012, it was not Rick Perry’s televised senior moment that destroyed his presidential ambition; it was a tea party furious that he allowed in-state tuition for college students whose parents had brought them, with no say, to this country undocumented.
Despite Hispanic support at the polls, Democrats weren’t doing much better. Obama promised immigration reform but delivered more deportations than all presidents from the 1870s through the 1990s combined. Most Hispanic Americans know someone in this country illegally — a misdemeanor, by the way, not a felony — and it was the top issue to Hispanics who voted in 2014. It was probably a reason, too, that many did not vote.
Today, the litmus test for conservative politicians seems not their concern about the deficit or even their opposition to abortion. It’s this: How anti-Mexican are you? (Not anti-Mexican-American, mind you.)
Congress doesn’t like Obama’s executive order, which cuts back on deporting undocumented immigrants, but refuses to pass a law redefining what’s legal and not. To Congress, Mexico isn’t America’s third-largest trading partner. It’s just a big, bad, scary place that needs a $10 billion fence even as the population of undocumented immigrants falls.
If all of this wasn’t offensive, it would be embarrassing.
One English-language Republican response to the State of the Union made no mention of immigration law; the one in Spanish vowed permanent changes to the law. In 2013, House Speaker John Boehner publicly condemned Iowa Republican Steve King for comparing undocumented kids to drug mules; last weekend, King emceed most of the Republicans interested in the presidency. Rick Perry’s soft spot has hardened. A dozen Republican governors are suing the federal government, Greg Abbott among them. Cruz made his bones opposing a new immigration law. And Rubio made his being for it — before he was against it.
Yes, Hispanic voters care about more than immigration. They care about education, work, the economy and upward mobility, just like everyone else. Yes, Democratic politicians take Hispanics for granted right up until the day they need their votes. But Hispanics swooning into the arms of the Republican Party in 2016?
Two words: fat chance.
Source: Dallas Morning News