US Senator Jon Kyl speaks during a Republican Party election night event in Phoenix, Arizona, November 6, 2012. Reuters/Joshua Lott
Republicans took some of their first tentative steps towards reinventing their party on Tuesday, when Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) introduced an alternative to the DREAM Act. The bill, called the Achieve Act, would allow immigrants brought to the United States as children without documentation to stay in the country, but it would not provide a path to citizenship. Instead, recipients could apply for a series of visas, first to attend college or serve in the military, then to work.
Unfortunately for Republicans, this measure—even if it became law—falls short of what the GOP needs to do if it is to win over growing electoral demographic groups.
It won’t pass anyway. Hutchison and Kyl are both retiring and the bill is unlikely to be passed in the lame-duck Congress’s few remaining weeks. Kyl says that the bill will be moved forward by sympathizers in the GOP such as Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Marco Rubio (R-TX), even though neither Rubio nor McCain has signed on as a cosponsor.
It’s easy to see the political imperative that is weighing upon Republicans. In the wake of their electoral defeat, many have determined that they must do better among Latinos. According to exit polls, Latinos made up 10 percent of the electorate this year, and only 29 percent of them voted for Mitt Romney. “The trajectory of the gains in the total numbers of Latino voters is only matched by the remarkable tin-ear the Republican Party has for this community,” write pollster John Zogby and former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz in the Huffington Post. “If conservatism keeps its demonization of immigrants and immigration reform as one of its pillars, look for the GOP to put itself out of business.”
This opinion is shared by political strategists on the right. Glenn Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican political research firm, notes:
Romney won many of the groups that are generally considered to be the ones to decide elections—Independents, white women (by double digits), middle income, and voters age 40+. Mitt Romney put together a coalition that just eight years ago would have won the presidential election….
So, if you win the swing groups but lose the election, that means the Democrats have a clear home field advantage. There are more Democrats. That underscores that we have to do better as a party with Hispanics. It will be hard to push white voter support for Democrats lower than 39% (which is all Obama got). Thus, to have a chance, Republicans have to appeal to Hispanics.
It’s simple math, but it’s hard to do. We have to start today.
Supporting immigration reform could also help Republicans soften their image among young voters. Obama dominated among voters 18–29 years old, winning them 60 to 36. According to the Pew Research Center, “In four of the key battleground states, Obama may not have won without the youth vote.” Only 58 percent of voters under 30 years old are non-Hispanic whites. Eighteen percent are Latino.
But some conservatives question the inference that Republicans should try to woo Latinos. Last week Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute argued that Republicans are wrong to assume that Latinos are latent conservatives who will vote Republican as soon as the GOP embraces amnesty for undocumented immigrants. As Murray observes, the survey data does not show Latinos to be more conservative than the general public.