Tuesday’s exit polls show that President Obama’s reelection hinged on the support of Latinos, who not only turned out in record numbers, but voted Democratic by a greater margin than ever before, defying predictions of the pundit class. While the president’s margin remained more or less unchanged among women and African Americans, it ballooned among Latinos, who favored him over Romney by a whopping 75-23 point margin. Compare that to George W. Bush, who attracted 44 percent of Latino voters in 2004.
As Republicans lick their wounds and regroup, it might be prudent of them to consider why Mitt Romney’s doomsday prophesy came true.
Democrats’ growing support among Latinos isn’t just the result of our country’s changing demographics. It’s the result of Republicans’ bitter determination to deny and defeat those changing demographics – even if that raging denial ends in their own extinction. It is the time bomb that was built into Ronald Reagan’s Republican coalition: if you build your majority on stoking fears of growing minority groups, at some point you will be outnumbered and out of luck.
Those short-sighted tactics have already lost Republicans the support of African Americans, who know very well what the Southern Strategy was, and still is, about. Anti-gay policies and rhetoric are driving away not only gays and lesbians but their allies, especially young people. And women – especially young, unmarried women – are saying “no thank you” to a platform built on taking them back in time.
But until recent years, Republican leaders seldom went out of their way to alienate Latinos. President Bush was a strong advocate of immigration reform, and held his party’s nativist fringe at arm’s length. John McCainJohn McCainSenate votes to elevate Cyber Command in military Senate sends annual defense bill to Obama's desk Trump really can't do much to reduce tensions with Putin's Russia MORE also resisted taking part in the most racially-charged attacks of his party’s base, at least until he gave in to the right to keep his Senate seat two years ago.But in his inimitable wish to go with the right-wing flow, Mitt Romney adopted the far right’s nativist fears as his own.
Analysts make the mistake of thinking the GOP can win back Latinos simply by toning down their immigration rhetoric, but that completely misses the point. The biggest problem is the policies themselves. Praising Arizona’s racial profiling law, bashing the nation’s first Latina Supreme Court justice, taking advice from anti-immigrant leader Kris Kobach, rejecting the DREAM Act, and showing a general disregard for Americans who must overcome challenges to succeed, Romney signaled that he would decline to stand up for Latinos. In turn, in large numbers, they refused to stand up for him.
If moral values and common decency haven’t stopped Republicans from their campaign of demonization and discrimination, perhaps massive electoral losses will. The demographic changes that they fear so are not on their side. Every month, 50,000 American Latinos turn 18. The United States’ Latino population grew by over 40 percent between 2000 and 2010 and is growing at an even faster rate in states like Virginia, where the Latino population nearly doubled in the past decade, and North Carolina, where it grew by a stunning 111 percent.
I don’t know what the new Republican coalition would look like, or if we will see it anytime soon. But Mitt Romney knew it in April, and his Republican allies should know it now. If you build your platform on bashing the foundations of a growing, changing country, that growing, changing country will return the favor.
Keegan is president of People for the American Way.
Tags John McCain