Kimberly Strassel and Rahm Emanuel have very different messages. Ms. Strassel, writing in the Wall Street Journal, warns conservatives that the president’s superior turnout operation is not responsible for his victory and that the Republicans cannot win future elections simply by matching the Democrats’ technical expertise. To win, the GOP must compete for Hispanic votes, and that means going in to Latino communities and talking to them.
Mayor Emanuel agrees that the turnout machine didn’t win the election for the Democrats but he doesn’t agree that the victory was preordained by demography and the Republicans’ weakness with minority voters. Emanuel emphasizes that the Republicans can improve their turnout efforts and they can change their strategies to attract more Latinos. To continue their successes, the Democrats needs to realize that they won because of the superiority of their ideas.
Of course, Mayor Emanuel lays out a series of “Democratic” ideas, some of which aren’t too popular with the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. Yet, his argument against complacency is a good one. The Democrats can’t take voters for granted or think that their organizational advantages are carved in stone. Where he and Ms. Strassel share a viewpoint is their belief that demography doesn’t have to be destiny. The Republicans can adapt.
Ms. Strassel emphasizes the demographic nature of the Republicans’ defeat, but only in order to argue that it must be addressed. She doesn’t say so explicitly, but it’s clear that she thinks nominating a Latino to run on the ticket is no substitute for community engagement. She wants Republicans on the ground in Latino communities, talking to people and getting supporters registered to vote. This would also be true for the growing Asian communities, and even to a degree in black communities.
What we are not hearing is any arguments from conservatives that they can continue on as before if only they can disenfranchise and discourage enough minority voters. No doubt, we will see some of this in practice. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker seems intent on rolling back 40 years of same-day registration in his state, for example. Shrinking and skewing the electorate didn’t work for the Republicans in 2012, but that doesn’t mean they will give up on the effort. The difference is that no one is willing to argue that these efforts at voter suppression will be sufficient to overcome their weaknesses with minority voters.
What also goes largely unmentioned is that much of the energy and purpose of the conservative base comes from a deep antipathy for brown people and the browning of America. Many conservatives not only do not want to extend citizenship rights to undocumented Latinos, they want to make their lives so miserable that they will self-deport. If this view were not popular on the right, Mitt Romney would not have adopted it (successfully) in the
Republican primaries. Here is how Colin Powell’s former chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson explained the problem during the campaign.
“My party, unfortunately, is the bastion of those people — not all of them, but most of them — who are still basing their decisions on race,” Wilkerson told MSNBC’s Ed Schultz. “Let me just be candid: My party is full of racists, and the real reason a considerable portion of my party wants President Obama out of the White House has nothing to do with the content of his character, nothing to do with his competence as commander in chief and president, and everything to do with the color of his skin, and that’s despicable.”
If we are going for candor, the same attitude extends to the growing Latino community in this country, whether they are here legally or not. And that is why it is no simple matter for the Republican Party to adopt a more welcoming tone to Latinos. While a new attitude might reduce the degree to which the GOP loses the Latino vote, it will come at the cost of alienating some of the party’s most ardent and dedicated supporters. Whether that manifests itself as xenophobic primary challenges or simply depressed turnout, it presents a real problem for Republican politicians.
Nor can the Republicans kid themselves that acquiescing to a comprehensive immigration reform that creates millions of new Latino voters will redound to their political advantage. Even if they went from losing 71% of the Latino vote to losing 51%, more Latino voters would still mean more votes for the Democrats so long as the GOP doesn’t evolve on social and domestic policy.
The Republicans should not agree to comprehensive immigration reform because they think it will benefit them politically. They should agree to it because it is the humane thing to do. Their brand of conservatism has an expiration date no matter what they do.
In a way, both Strassel and Emanuel are correct. The Dems won because they have better ideas and the Republicans lost because they did so poorly with minorities. If the GOP wants to win the presidency any time soon, they have to fix both problems. The Democrats should not assume that they won’t.