By Juan Williams - 02/11/13 10:00 AM EST
Before listening to the President’s big push for immigration reform in his State of the Union address, take a look at the current state of play inside the GOP on the Hispanic vote. There’s a hidden hand driving the reform proposals that will arrive before the Senate Judiciary Committee the day after the State of the Union.
That specter is the political danger for Republicans surrounding immigration reform. It is evident in a poll released last month by Resurgent Republic. The survey focused on Latino voters in four swing states — Florida, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. It showed that President Obama won 75 percent of the Latino vote in Colorado; 70 percent in Nevada; 64 percent in New Mexico and 60 percent in Florida in last November’s election.
The Resurgent Republic poll found that, on virtually every issue presented to Latinos voters in the swing states, their preference for Democrats over Republicans is growing.
For example, during last year’s presidential campaign, Republican Mitt Romney ran advertisements targeting high unemployment under President Obama in the Latino community. The idea was that the economy — not immigration and GOP opposition to immigration reform — was the number one issue for Latinos.
The poll gives a clue as to why the strategy failed. When Latinos in swing states are asked whom they trust to improve the economy, the answer is Democrats by a margin of 56 to 31 percent.
Similarly, when they are asked which party has the right plans to improve education, a key to upward economic mobility, they favor Democrats over the GOP, 62 percent to 22 percent.
Hispanic voters even told Resurgent Republic that Democrats, more than Republicans, share their social values by a margin of 66 percent to 21 percent.
That finding shatters the conventional wisdom that socially conservative Catholic Hispanics would flock to the GOP were it not for the immigration issues.
The key to future Republican political hopes is that Latinos — broadly viewed as a group who are church-going, fiscally conservative, entrepreneurial and with strong families — can be drawn to Republican candidates who trumpet those values.
But as the poll suggests, the GOP will have trouble getting Latinos to even listen to their socially conservative pitch. Latinos have tuned out the GOP.
For example, when the poll asked which party does a better job of protecting women’s rights, 69 percent of Latinos picked the Democrats while only 17 percent said the GOP. Latino women are the most politically active segment of the Latino community.
Overall, Latinos in swing states told pollsters the Republican brand represents anti-immigrant sentiment and works only for rich people.
This time bomb for Republicans leaves them two options. They can play to short-term resentment of immigrants among aging white conservatives or they can try to persuade the current base of the party to take the long-view and act in the best interests of the GOP’s future.
The political reality is that the fast-rising number of Latino voters moving into GOP congressional districts hurts Republican efforts to hold the majority in the House and kills hopes of gains in the Senate.
The Latino population is growing most rapidly in the south, southwest and midwest. Those new voters are pushing into congressional districts now dominated by older, white conservatives. By the end of this decade, Latino voters could be putting those congressional districts and Senate seats into the hands of Democrats.
But the hard right base of the party, fans of conservative talk-radio attacks on immigrants and Romney’s call for “self-deportation,” still denounce a pathway to citizenship as “amnesty” for people who broke the law. And Republicans now in Congress fear a vote for a path to citizenship could antagonize that current base of voters while creating millions of new registered Democratic voters.
That is why Republicans are staging intramural fights over immigration.
Texas’s Tea Party Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is playing to current resentments despite the large and growing population of Latinos in Texas. “To allow those who came here illegally to be placed on such a path is both inconsistent with rule of law and profoundly unfair to the millions of legal immigrants who waited years, if not decades, to come to America legally,” he said recently.
On the other side of the debate are Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and John McCain of Arizona, states also experiencing growth in the Hispanic population. Those senators are taking the lead for the GOP in proposing reforms that include a pathway to citizenship.
Look for the Republican divide about the future of the party to be on display on TV and in reform proposals after the State of the Union.
Will short-term thinking or long-term thinking carry the day among Republicans?
Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.