My beloved and estranged Republican Party has a problem with the Latino vote that is clear in the results of yesterday’s election. The Latino share of the electorate is growing, the white vote is shrinking proportionately, and the GOP is relying on that shrinking white vote while its anti-immigrant message and policies alienate Latinos and many others.
Cuban Americans have long been the
only reliably Republican segment of the Latino electorate. When you add the fact that the hard-line
Cuban vote is located mainly in the important state of Florida, and the fact
that it generates considerable campaign donations for the Republican Party, it
has earned a favored position in Republican politics.
But this is changing. Look at Miami-Dade County, where the Cuban
vote is concentrated, with a population that is 65 percent Latino: Al Gore won
53% of the Miami-Dade vote in 2000, John Kerry won 53% in 2004, President Obama
won 58% in 2008 and 62% yesterday.
In yesterday’s Florida exit polls,
the Cuban vote split evenly: Obama 49-Romney 47 (NBC
News) and Romney 50-Obama 47 (Fox
News). The rest of Florida’s Latino
vote went for Obama, 68-32.
So there are problems for
First, the old reliable hard-line
Cuban Americans are no longer capable of delivering a majority of their own
community’s votes for the GOP. The
community is changing. Half of Cuban
Americans – Obama’s Cuban Americans – are either not single issue “anti-Castro”
voters, or they support the President’s policies that give them the freedom to
decide how often they can visit their families in Cuba and how much money they
can send to support them. Who would have
imagined that President Obama could liberalize Cuba policies and increase his
Miami-Dade margin by four points? The Cuba
policy that Governor Romney proposed – reverting to Bush policies that limit
visits to once every three years and remittances to $100 per month – is
incapable of making this situation better for the GOP, and can only make it
worse over time. Each year for the past
four years, an average of 39,521 Cubans have become legal permanent residents
of the United States. These are not
people who are 80 years old, who left Cuba in 1960, and have no connection or
affection for those they left behind.
Second, the Republican hard-line
approach on Cuba is irrelevant to the real Republican problem, which is to
address Latinos not of Cuban descent.
These are people who live under the normal set of immigration rules, not
the ones that apply to Cubans whose illegal immigrants are welcomed and given
government benefits and a quick path to a green card as soon as they
arrive. In fact, when Republicans
emphasize their affinity with Cuban immigrants, they underscore their distance
from the life that all other Latino immigrants live every day. This is why Senator Rubio is so overrated as
a Republican emissary to Latinos nationwide – he supports the open-door policy
with free government benefits for his own, and opposes it for everyone else.
With all respect to Governor Jeb
Bush, the Republican problem with Latinos is not a problem of “tone,” it is one
of policies that are harsh and convey disrespect, to put it mildly.
Republicans need to have a debate
about immigration, and if they start one – or even if they do not – the hard-line
segment of the Cuban American community will find that it no longer holds a favored
position. Calle Ocho is losing its
ability to deliver votes. It is less
powerful in Miami-Dade and less important in Florida. And in the issue that matters for
Republicans, connecting to Latinos nationally, it has no role to play at all.