Immigration is not one of my top concerns, but if you ask me what I think about it, I come down more or less on the side of restrictionists. That said, Ryan Lizza’s reporting indicates that Republicans are going to have to move in a direction in which many of their base do not wish to go. Take a look at this, from his interview with the new US Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, who is a Tea Party guy:
As a senator from Texas, the largest and most important state in the Republican firmament, Cruz has a special role in the post-Romney debate. At the Presidential level, Texas has thirty-eight electoral votes, second only to California, which has fifty-five. It anchors the modern Republican Party, in the same way that California and New York anchor the Democratic Party. But, Cruz told me, the once unthinkable idea of Texas becoming a Democratic state is now a real possibility.
“If Republicans do not do better in the Hispanic community,” he said, “in a few short years Republicans will no longer be the majority party in our state.” He ticked off some statistics: in 2004, George W. Bush won forty-four per cent of the Hispanic vote nationally; in 2008, John McCain won just thirty-one per cent. On Tuesday, Romney fared even worse.
“In not too many years, Texas could switch from being all Republican to all Democrat,” he said. “If that happens, no Republican will ever again win the White House. New York and California are for the foreseeable future unalterably Democrat. If Texas turns bright blue, the Electoral College math is simple. We won’t be talking about Ohio, we won’t be talking about Florida or Virginia, because it won’t matter. If Texas is bright blue, you can’t get to two-seventy electoral votes. The Republican Party would cease to exist. We would become like the Whig Party. Our kids and grandkids would study how this used to be a national political party. ‘They had Conventions, they nominated Presidential candidates. They don’t exist anymore.’ ”
And here is Lizza talking to the head of the Republican Party of Texas:
“If I say to you, your life depends on picking whether the following state is Democrat or Republican, what would you pick?” Munisteri asked. “The state is fifty-five per cent traditional minority. Thirty-eight per cent is Hispanic, eleven per cent is African-American, and the rest is Asian-American, and two-thirds of all births are in a traditional minority family. And if I was to tell you that, nationwide, last time, Republicans got only roughly four per cent of the African-American vote and about a third of the Hispanic vote, would you say that state is Democrat or Republican? Well, that’s Texas. We are the only majority-minority state in the union that people consider Republican.”
Immigration from Mexico only partly accounts for the change. More than a million Americans have moved to Texas in the past decade, many from traditionally Democratic states. More than three hundred and fifty thousand Californians have arrived in the past five years; since 2005, over a hundred thousand Louisianans permanently relocated to Texas, mostly in Houston, after Hurricane Katrina. The population is also skewing younger, which means more Democratic. But Munisteri is more preoccupied by the racial and ethnic changes. He turned to a chart showing Texas’s population by ethnic group over the next few decades. A red line, representing the white population, plunged from almost fifty-five per cent, in 2000, to almost twenty-five per cent, in 2040; a blue line, the Hispanic population, climbed from thirty-two per cent to almost sixty per cent during the same period. He pointed to the spot where the two lines crossed, as if it augured a potential apocalypse. “This shows when Hispanics will become the largest group in the state,” he said. “That’s somewhere in 2014. We’re almost at 2013!” He added, “You cannot have a situation with the Hispanic community that we’ve had for forty years with the African-American community, where it’s a bloc of votes that you almost write off. You can’t do that with a group of citizens that are going to compose a majority of this state by 2020, and which will be a plurality of this state in about a year and a half.”
In Lizza’s account, it’s not just about immigration, or having more Hispanic candidates running as Republicans. The Hispanic community is not monolithic; some of them embrace a conservative hard line on immigration, for instance, and Ted Cruz’s vote last week indicates that he had no crossover appeal to Hispanic Democrats. Lizza’s reporting — especially the research that the panicked Texas GOP chief shares with him — suggests that while the GOP won’t solve its Hispanic problem by embracing immigration reform (much less fielding more Hispanic candidates), it must at least embrace immigration reform as a starting point — or it’s going to get wiped out nationally.
Cruz has a point that’s hard to ignore: Given that New York and California are true-blue, how does a Republican win the presidency without Texas? We are just about at the point where the GOP cannot win Texas without winning a substantial portion of the Hispanic vote. Besides, white people aren’t going to be heavily Republican forever. A Texas Hispanic Republican activist makes this point:
“If you’re coming from the Anglo community, you may be seeing the death of your party and your political power and the way you understand things,” he said. “You step on our side, the future looks bright.”
That line made me think about how when I was a kid and just starting to pay attention to politics, I knew — everybody knew — that the Democrats were the natural majority in this country. Republicans would win the presidency sometimes (we had Nixon, for example), but the country was Democratic. Democrats set the agenda. Reagan began to turn that around. Even when the Democrats started winning again, under Clinton, the Republicans still pretty much set the agenda, because the country was, on the whole, center-right. The New Deal narrative had run its course; now Reaganism set the terms of the debate.
This political moment feels like everything is changing again. The dominant American political paradigm, I mean.