The Republican Party has two options on immigration. It can try to close it down. Or it can learn to play the same game as the Democratic Party
Winning the Minority Vote
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After the 2012 Waterloo, Republican consultants retreated to some party boats and hotels, and began planning their comeback. Bereft of ideas, they took the media’s explanations for why they lost at face values. What they have delivered is a liberal’s eye diagnosis of why they lost and so they debuted a plan to win over Latinos with amnesty and to end their negative image with a new gentler look.
Mostly what they have proven is that they are even more clueless than they were a year ago.
Senator Marco Rubio seems like a nice guy, but if the Republicans are counting on him to deliver the Latino vote, they might want to take a closer look at his Senate win. While Rubio did indeed win the Cuban Latino vote, he only won 39 percent of the non-Cuban Latino vote. That’s the same Latino margin of victory as Rick Perry got. It’s the usual best score that Republicans get among Latinos.
Marco Rubio could be a guy named Mark Richardson for all the impact that he made among Latino voters. But that’s because the “Latino” vote is a ridiculous oversimplification. Latinos consist of Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans, to name just a few. And they don’t necessarily align.
Mayor Bloomberg ran against a Puerto Rican candidate and won the Mexican vote. Bloomberg may speak Spanish about as well as your Aunt Sally, but that didn’t really matter because Moneybags didn’t waste a lot of time telling stories about growing up poor in the slums of San Juan. Instead he worked with Mexican community leaders who were tired of being sidelined by Puerto Ricans, and advertised heavily on their radio stations and in their papers.
Race is certainly a factor, but it’s not the only factor. Most Black voters initially supported Hillary Clinton. If Herman Cain ran against Hillary Clinton in 2016, Clinton would beat him by a high margin. A Zogby poll shows Rubio beating Clinton among Latino voters, but how well that poll would hold up after Latino leaders have spent enough time getting the word out is another matter. Clinton beat Obama among Latino voters on Super Tuesday. Assuming that she won’t do the same to Rubio only because of his race is a risky bet.
There are two types of minority groups in the United States. Segregated and integrated
There are two types of minority groups in the United States. Segregated and integrated. The more integrated a group becomes, the less of a bloc vote it is. A bloc vote is not simply a consistent pattern, it is the result of a segregated community that interfaces with the rest of the country through its leaders and local media. And those two areas are key.
It doesn’t really matter how many Latinos speak at the Republican National Convention or how many Republican senators sign on to Amnesty. These events will, for the most part, be processed through the filter of those community leaders and their associated newspapers and radio stations. Republicans imagine that they’re addressing Latinos, but aside from Univision appearances they mostly don’t even have access to them.
The percentage of the Latino vote that is accessible to Republicans largely comes from those Latinos who have integrated and are in the Middle Class. That is why the Republicans did so much better with the Latino vote in Ohio than Virginia. Median income and English language skills remain a fairly reliable predictor of the Republican vote.
Winning the minority vote is not simply about policy or diversity. That is an elementary lesson of the urban political machine that the Republican Party has bizarrely forgotten, even though it’s a lesson that goes back a century and a half in American politics. Diversity is not about finding binders of qualified candidates, but about elevating community leaders from minority groups who can deliver a share of the vote from their community.
It’s not pretty, but it is practical politics. Lincoln understood it and applied that methodology right down to the appointment of generals. The Democrats built an entire network of votes in every state by taking their urban political machine national. But the Republicans seem to think that it’s enough to have someone out there speaking Spanish. It’s a nice touch and the urban political machines used it. Mayor George B. McClellan, Jr., the son of General MacClellan, spoke a bewildering number of the languages that his constituents did. Mayor LaGuardia also juggled languages. But those are campaign tricks. They are not how the vote is delivered.
An immigrant community is naturally segregated by language and custom. That’s not a racial issue. It was true in its time for Polish immigrants or Italian immigrants or Jewish immigrants That leads to an isolated and vulnerable base that is dependent on its community leaders for access to services and for help navigating a strange new world. And the political structure is largely determined by those leaders and their contacts with the outside world. Integration removes much of that which is why it is in the interest of those leaders and their outside political allies to maintain that state of segregation.
The immigrant vote is largely shaped by their first contacts, by the political faction that first met them when they ‘came off the boat’ and took care of them. They perceive those groups as being the ones to represent their interests even when they resent them and are entirely aware of how corrupt they are.
Policies as the legislative level have a limited bearing on this perception. The political network may organize a thousand members of the group to march on City Hall to demand X, Y and Z, but any outcome of that match only reinforces the influence of the organizers, not of City Hall. Amnesty will not make the Republicans seem more likable, it will make the organizers seem more powerful for having successfully broken the Republican opposition to illegal immigration. That is all that such policy concessions accomplish.
All of this applies equally well to most immigrant and minority groups. A segregated group is largely controlled by its native power brokers who are controlled by local political power brokers. That role is not limited exclusively to the Democratic Party, the Republican Party did at one point have sizable contacts among some Eastern European, Cuban and Vietnamese immigrants. But those contacts did not move up the ladder to the national Republican Party. Nixon’s efforts in that regard largely fell by the wayside with his own fall and the Republican Party forgot most of what it knew about community organizing along the way, concentrating on media buys and push polling.
That is why the Republican Party is performing so badly among newer Asian immigrants, namely PRC Chinese and Indians, while flailing among Cubans and Vietnamese. And it’s why it has no clue at all about its hamhanded approach for trying to win the Latino vote.
Latinos, like every other group, have their own demographics. The types of immigrants that the Democrats want to bring in through legalization, poor, illiterate, unskilled and low on the totem pole in their own home countries, are ideal for their purposes and terrible for Republican purposes. Sure some of them might become the type of touching success stories that Republicans and Democrats both use as examples of American Exceptionalism, but for the most part they won’t. At least not for a while.
The Democrats know the numbers
The Democrats know the numbers. They know that their grip loosens as immigrants begin making English their first language, stop living in close-knit communities and start looking at how high their taxes are and how little they get in exchange. That doesn’t mean that those people will magically become Republicans, mostly they will not, but some of them will. The immigration Ponzi Scheme requires that the balance be maintained on the side of controllable segregated immigrants. And the longer a group remains segregated, the more it remains a reliable source of Democratic votes.
Just as in the 2012 election, the Republicans are trying to win through displays of policy, while the Democrats rely on their keen knowledge of demographics. The Republicans are trying to win an argument, without realizing that the argument is not the point. The point is in the demographics.
The Republicans cannot win the argument with Amnesty. Amnesty is just another Get Out the Vote effort by Democrats. The Republicans cannot and will not benefit from it, in the same way that they cannot and do not benefit from any other Democratic GOTV operation.
If the Republican Party genuinely wants the Latino vote, it will dig a deep hole, toss Amnesty inside and then begin looking at different Latino groups by country of origin, by income level and by their community structures and try to see which of them it can zero in on. And then it will have to start finding community leaders who can deliver the vote in exchange for pork. It’s not very conservative, but it’s still more conservative than Amnesty, and unlike Amnesty, it can actually work.
Mostly though it will still be a waste of time. The Latino vote is a long shot. It will take a great deal of work to begin making real inroads. The Republican Party would have to build an infrastructure of business and religious groups that lead up into state parties. It’s doable but the Democrats have far too much of a lead and too much control over immigration policy.
The Republican Party would be wiser to concentrate on the Chinese and the Indian vote, two groups that are easier to sell on the Republican agenda and that are still somewhat “fresh” and whose layers of political infrastructure hasn’t completely solidified yet. But again the methods would have to be the same.
Minority groups and immigrant groups that are isolated don’t just want a story about how free enterprise can benefit everyone. It’s a great story, but it’s also not going to fly. Those groups are going to want communal benefits. They are going to want to know what’s in it for them. And that means pork and community organizers and all the tawdry gimmicks of urban machine politics that may be rotten, but that do win elections.
The Republican Party has two options on immigration. It can try to close it down. Or it can learn to play the same game as the Democratic Party if it wants to compete for their votes. What it cannot do however is pretend that there is a third option in which it can have open immigration and political campaigns based on the virtue of free enterprise by second-generation immigrant politicians who speak Spanish or Fujianese (not exactly a winner with today’s Chinese immigrants) and still win.