Remember the days after the 2012 election when it looked like Republicans would finally be persuaded, if only by self-interest, to support immigration reform? Brit Hume of Fox News blamed Mitt Romney’s loss on his abysmal showing among Latinos and his “hard-line position on immigration.” Hume’s colleague Sean Hannity came out in favor of a pathway to citizenship. “Yes, amnesty,” implored Charles Krauthammer. “Use the word.”
That panicked counsel proved to be the high point of GOP minority-outreach efforts. In Congress, as immigration reform went from cheap talk to real legislation, the hard-liners circled the wagons, pressuring Speaker John Boehner into declaring the measure “dead on arrival.” Now Hannity is opposed to reform because he thinks “it won’t help the GOP in future elections,” and Hume calls his own argument “baloney,” contending that the Latino vote is “not nearly as important” as the white vote. This is an example of what psychologists call “adaptive preference formation,” or as Aesop allegorized in “The Fox and the Grapes”: if you can’t get something, convince yourself it wasn’t very good in the first place.
The most insidious of these arguments—because it comes wrapped in the cool logic of charts lacking explicit racial animus—belongs to Sean Trende, an analyst with Real Clear Politics, who composed an influential four-part series purporting to show that Republicans can survive and indeed thrive as a de facto whites-only party. Simply by finding the 6 million “missing white voters” who sat out 2012, Republicans can roll Democrats in presidential elections 2016 to 2044 (sorry, Hillary!)—even in a worst-case scenario in which 90 percent of all minorities vote Democratic. As Ruy Teixeira and Alan Abramowitz point out at Think Progress, there’s a heavy dose of magical thinking in Trende’s math, which assumes a boost in turnout exclusively among whites instead of the electorate as a whole. Even more magical is Trende’s strategic advice to the GOP: court downscale, rural white voters by embracing the economic populism of Ross Perot, whose platform included higher taxes on the rich and universal healthcare. Good luck selling that to the Tea Party.
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