WORLD NEWS TOMORROW – The Republican hand-wringers and recriminators are taking to Washington salons and opinion columns to lament the party’s failure to appeal to Latinos in the 2012 election. Instead, they ought to go to Hampton or Grundy Center, Iowa.
It was there in the summer of 2007 that Mitt Romney, seeking the Republican presidential nomination, went to town meetings and got an earful on illegal immigration. He had generally been a supporter of comprehensive immigration overhaul; after a series of town halls he became the leading immigration basher in the 2008 and 2012 Republican primaries.
“He morphed into that position to make a connection with these voters,” says Douglas Gross, who ran Mr. Romney’s Iowa presidential campaign in 2007.
The Republican problem on immigration and other issues won’t be solved with just a Washington fix, like passing an immigration bill or nominating Senator Marco Rubio of Florida as the party’s presidential candidate. The Republican political base is intolerant, stridently so, on issues like immigration, religion and gay rights.
Mr. Romney and the people around him may have been soft on principle; they were not dumb. Because conservatives were suspicious of the candidate anyway, the Romney camp felt compelled to play the immigration card.
Last autumn, he savaged Governor Rick Perry of Texas as being too soft on immigration; his “super PAC” then ran 1,501 commercials in Iowa attacking Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker, on the issue. The campaign later ran 2,300 ads assailing another rival, former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, on immigration.
Then, in the general election, Mr. Romney ran spots, including one featuring his Spanish-speaking son, pledging support for a bipartisan solution on immigration.
Hispanics did not buy it: 71 percent of Latino voters backed President Barack Obama, and 27 percent Mr. Romney.
Mr. Romney’s experience with the issue — success in the primaries, failure in the general election — encapsulates the Republicans’ core constituency problem. It is similar to what Democrats faced a generation ago, when their base was well to the left of the country, especially on cultural matters.
Polls over the past year have shown that almost half of Republicans believe the false charge that Mr. Obama was not born in the United States; almost a third said he was Muslim, also demonstrably false.
The same sort of extreme views are evident among the party’s core supporters on issues involving women.
Republicans lament losing two Senate seats they expected to win. One was in Missouri, where the party’s candidate, Todd Akin, talked about “legitimate rape,” and the other was in Indiana, where Richard Mourdock suggested that pregnancy resulting from rape was “God’s will.” Yet these two right-wing Republicans had defeated more moderate opponents in primaries not in spite of such views but because of them.
These attitudes are out of step with the changing face of U.S. politics.
In 1980, the electorate was 88 percent white; in 2000, it was 83 percent white. On Nov. 6, it was 72 percent white, and within several elections it will be less than two-thirds.
Mr. Obama won 80 percent of the nonwhite vote. Republicans never expected to do well with African-Americans, though the huge turnout surprised them. At one time, they had hoped to do better with Hispanics. Yet almost every expert on that electorate says a requisite for consideration by many Latinos is that a candidate possesses a reasonable view on immigration.
One Republican re-elected this year was Representative Steve King of Iowa, a virulent immigration-basher who once likened immigrants to dogs. Those town hall meetings that Mr. Romney attended in the summer of 2007 are in Mr. King’s district, the most Republican in the state. It will be interesting to see if any of the 2016 presidential hopefuls take on Mr. King.
A bright young Republican luminary, Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana and the new head of the Republican Governors Association, called on his party last week to be more inclusive, to reach out to minorities and “not be the party that simply protects the rich so that they get to keep their toys.”
In that interview with Politico, he said Republicans have to “stop being the stupid party” and “cease this dumbed-down conservatism and stop insulting the intelligence of the voters.”
This may be good advice from a former Rhodes Scholar. Yet this is the same Bobby Jindal that signed a bill that his right-wing legislature passed encouraging the teaching in Louisiana schools of creationism alongside evolution. And when the Birthers threatened to require a candidate to present a copy of a birth certificate to get on the ballot, Mr. Jindal said he would sign such a measure.
Mr. Gross, the former Romney campaign chairman for Iowa, recalls trying to persuade his candidate that there was space for a pro-immigration candidate, urging him to engage in a “Sister Souljah moment.” That’s a reference to when, 20 years ago, the Democratic presidential candidate, Bill Clinton, took on a violence-spewing rap singer before a black audience, reversing the tendency of party leaders to pander to or gloss over such bad behavior. Mr. Romney “wouldn’t do it,” lamented Mr. Gross.