So of course I would love to interpret Romney’s loss as a popular rebuke of the most nativist candidate in recent memory, who made Kris Kobach a campaign advisor, got the endorsement of Jan Brewer, advocated “self-deportation,” and so on. But I am clearly biased, and I’m no political analyst. So let me see if anyone else thinks Romney lost, partly, for his position on immigration.
Tom Bevan and Carl Cannon list 21 reasons why Obama beat Romney. One of them:
2. Amigos de Obama: Early in the Republican primary season, Romney proffered “self-deportation” as a partial policy prescription for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in this country. Romney’s rhetoric was aimed at Rick Perry, who had signed legislation granting in-state college tuition to young people brought to Texas as children.
This line of argumentation hurt Perry, but Newt Gingrich criticized Romney for it, as did the president. Obama, by contrast, embraced the DREAM Act, which would grant a path to citizenship for young immigrants, even those in the country illegally, who enlisted in the armed forces or attended college.
After Romney was nominated, the president signed an executive order barring the deportation of illegal minors. It was mostly symbolic (and perhaps not even legal), but it was politically savvy, and Latino voters noticed. Nationally, Obama received a whopping 69 percent of the Hispanic vote — an even higher percentage than in 2008 — and, with it, the swing states of Florida, Colorado, and Nevada.
Even more ominous for Republicans: George W. Bush won 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004; McCain won 31 percent in 2008; Romney garnered only 27 percent this year, even as their share of the electorate has grown from 8 to 10 percent.
That Hispanics voted overwhelmingly for Obama might not be due to the immigration issue; it could reflect other issues, such as Latino support for Obamacare, or just general left-leaning. But the fact that Romney’s share of the Hispanic vote is so much less than Bush got in 2004 when he was championing immigration reform, and somewhat less than McCain’s even though McCain got a smaller share of the vote in general, is suggestive. Obviously, if Romney’s immigration position gained white votes while losing Hispanic votes, his immigration position might have been a net advantage. But none of the pundits seem to be saying that.
Here’s Jacob Weisberg in the FT:
The Republican strategy of making the election a referendum on Mr Obama’s handling of the economy was perfectly sound. The problem was that the Republican Party couldn’t pass the credibility test itself. For many voters disenchanted with Mr Obama, it still was not safe to vote for his opponent.
This failure began with the spectacle of the extended primary season, which was dominated by candidates with views far outside the political mainstream…
Mr Romney is not a right-wing extremist, but to win the nomination, he had to feign being one, recasting himself as “severely conservative” and eschewing the reasonableness that made him a successful, moderate governor of Massachusetts, the country’s most liberal state. He had to pass muster with his party’s right-wing base on taxes, immigration, climate change, abortion and gay rights. Many of his statements on these issues were patently insincere, but that was hardly reassuring. Mr Romney’s very insincerity and flexibility made it improbable that he would stand up to the GOP’s hyper-partisan congressional wing in office any more than he had during the primaries…For women, Latinos, and young voters tempted to abandon Mr Obama, the old Mr Romney might have been a plausible alternative. The new Mr Romney, fettered by a feverish GOP was too risky a choice. (my emphases)
Immigration gets a mention, but Weisberg doesn’t seem to attach a lot of importance to it. By contrast, Fred Barnes stresses it:
There’s one piece of advice Republicans need to heed. They must quit alienating Hispanics by loose talk about immigrants. In presidential elections, they’ve fallen from a 40% share of the Hispanic vote in 2004, to 31% in 2008, to 27% this year. It becomes increasingly difficult to win national elections when at the same time the Hispanic vote is growing, the Republican share is shrinking.
Had Mr. Romney won half the Hispanic vote, he’d probably be president-elect day. As it was, billions of dollars were spent, millions of people enthralled, and the politics of Washington and the nation dominated—all by a presidential campaign that led to nowhere. The survivor in chief was the status quo.
Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel don’t mention immigration, though they do say: “The country is changing too fast. Most people have the sense that America is different demographically from what it was 20 years ago. But unless they’ve been reading the latest census data, they have no real idea. The changes are that profound.” This is a recurring theme in the post-election commentary, e.g., in George Will’s take:
Perhaps Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election on Sept. 22, 2011, when, alarmed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s entry into the Republican nomination race, he rushed to Perry’s right regarding immigration, attacking the Dream Act. He would go on to talk about forcing illegal immigrants into “self-deportation.” It is surprising that only about 70 percent of Hispanics opposed Romney…
In 2012 — the year after the first year in which a majority of babies born in America were minorities — Hispanics were for the first time a double-digit (10 percent) portion of the turnout. Republicans have four years to figure out how to leaven their contracting base with millions more members of America’s largest and fastest-growing minority…
Republicans can take some solace from the popular vote. But unless they respond to accelerating demographic changes — and Obama, by pressing immigration reform, can give Republicans a reef on which they can wreck themselves — the 58th presidential election may be like the 57th, only more so.
I didn’t understand the “reef on which they can wreck themselves” line. I think Will means that Republicans will wreck themselves by opposing it, but perhaps that’s my bias again.
Eliot Spitzer writes: “Whether it’s single women, young adults, or minorities, alienating the rapidly growing voting blocs is not smart politics. Latinos voted by a margin of almost 3 to 1 for the president.” No explicit mention of immigration, though the implication might be that Romney’s talk of “self-deportation” and his undue tolerance for Kris Kobach and Jan Brewer alienated minorities.
Lisa Lerer at Bloomberg highlights the immigration issue as well:
A former Massachusetts governor with a moderate record, Romney concluded he had to woo the evangelical voters and anti- tax tea party activists with hardline positions on immigration, taxes and abortion…
Those were views the Romney campaign was never quite able to “etch a sketch” away, as Fehrnstrom had predicted in March the campaign would do.
Though Romney tried to soften his tone, his primary promise to make things so hard for illegal immigrants that they would “self-deport” lingered with Hispanic voters.
I wonder if Lerer has any good reason to think that evangelical voters are particularly attracted to hardline positions on immigration. This survey by the Pew Foundation finds that frequent churchgoers are more likely to share the mainly pro-immigration attitudes that prevail among religious leaders. Anyway, Joel Kotkin also stresses the immigration issue:
Let’s start with Hispanics, arguably the biggest deciders in this election. Exit polling shows Obama winning this group — which gave up to two-fifths of their vote to George Bush — by over two to one. In 2008, Obama improved his winning margin with Latino voters from 67% in 2008 to 69% in 2012. And for the first time they represented 10% of the overall electorate.
Obama and the Democrats went after this constituency, taking some risks along the way about a backlash among whites. Obama’s move to not deport young undocumented immigrants if they came to this country as a child and met certain other criteria blurred any negative impact from a still weak economy. In contrast, Romney’s platform of more or less making life so horrible that undocumented immigrants have canceled out all the GOP candidate’s credible economic and social proposals that might have appealed to this group.
To this Republican political malpractice there is an even greater threat: the loss of younger voters. According to CNN exit polls, Millennials voted for Obama 60% to 36% and accounted for 19% of all voters, up from 17% in 2008. Although white male millennials turned slightly less enthusiastic, the President’s huge margin among white women as well as minority millennials — roughly 40 percent of this huge generation — more than made up the difference.
Why did this happen? Generational theorists Mike Hais and Morley Winograd attribute this to several factors. One is the intrinsic optimism of millennials, even in the face of very difficult economic challenges. This blunted Romney’s main argument. Other issues such as gay marriage, favored by most millennials, as well as a more tolerant attitude towards immigration drove them away from the GOP and towards the President…
What should the Republicans do now? They certainly will need to move away from the immigrant-bashing that cost them dearly among the key ascendant voting blocs of millennials and Hispanics.
Yglesias questions the link between Latino votes and immigration:
Pundits are quickly turning to immigration to explain the Republicans’ Latino problem and to offer a possible cure, but the reality is that the rot cuts much deeper. The GOP doesn’t have a problem with Latino voters per se. Rather, it has a problem with a broad spectrum of voters who simply don’t feel that it’s speaking to their economic concerns. The GOP has an economic agenda tilted strongly to the benefit of elites, and it has preserved support for that agenda—even though it disserves the majority of GOP voters—with implicit racial politics.
But he seems to be in the minority here. All in all, I’m definitely not alone in thinking that GOP losses were in an important degree a function of Romney’s hardline position on immigration. My mental model is that there’s a spectrum of opinion on immigration, and this time around, both parties, in different ways, took positions rather far to the “right” on immigration. The GOP took hardline restrictionist positions and advocated nasty policies like “self-deportation.” Obama kept talking about immigration reform, while actually perpetrating deportations at a faster rate than any other president. The parties ended up pretty close together, but with Obama a bit to the “left” (pro-immigrant) of the GOP, and since their adjacent positions were both right-of-center, most of the spectrum was nearer Obama than the GOP. One troubling implication of this model is that, while it would imply that the GOP paid the price for being the more anti-immigrant party, it would also imply that Obama’s mass deportations helped him politically.
But now he doesn’t need to worry about what will help him politically. He’ll never stand before the voters again. He can follow his conscience, if he chooses. Hopefully on this issue at least it leads him in the right direction.
By the way: while I’m suggesting the GOP and Obama were right-of-center on immigration this time around (though the issue is very complicated: basically, I think ordinary voters are just very ignorant about immigration, so that some of their attitudes might be quite liberal while at the same time they will get stuck in insistence on ends that even the most draconian means couldn’t achieve… but never mind, that’s another discussion), I’m not suggesting that the great and good American people is secretly on the side of open borders and will come through in the end. A self-interested GOP would do well by shifting left on immigration, but I wouldn’t offer open borders as political advice to a party that merely wants to win.