Protesters rally against the SB1070 immigration bill in Arizona in 2010. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin.)
In February, I wrote the first part in a promised series about why today’s political conventional wisdom—that, as Jonathan Chait put it “conservative America will soon come to be dominated, in a semi-permanent fashion, by an ascendant Democratic coalition hostile to its outlook and interests”—may be premature. I cleared the decks by pointing to all those other moments—in 1964, 1972, 1974 (and, I didn’t note, 1992)—when equally confident prognostications of permanent Democratic majorities came a cropper. This time, I take on the most conspicuous this-time-it’s-going-to-be different argument: that the white vote in presidential elections has gone from almost 90 percent in 1980 to about 70 percent in 2012; that there are 24 million Hispanics currently eligible to vote and there will be 40 million by 2030; and that only 27 percent of Hispanic voters chose Mitt Romney for president (chart here)—and so, abracadabra, Democrats Über Alles!
Now, it might hard for us to wrap our minds around a different way of seeing things in these days of Joe Arpaeio and Jan Brewer—and Susana Martinez, the Latina governor of New Mexico who promises to repeal her state’s law allowing undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses even though her own grandparents were undocumented immigrants. But, taking the long view—and isn’t that the whole point of this exercise?—it has to be acknowledged: party identities aren’t passed on through the genes. Blocs of “natural Democrats” have become natural Republicans before. Indeed, in at least one instance, it happened with shocking rapidity. As I noted last time, in the 1960s, droves of white Democrat ethnics—Italians, Eastern Europeans, the Irish—started voting Republican in a backlash against the Democrats’ continued embrace of civil rights in the wake of a failed open housing bill and the urban riots. Only an eye-blink earlier, they had been considered the soul of the New Deal coalition.