Judging from the anti-immigrant rhetoric from Republican hopefuls in the Iowa caucuses, the Republican Party is marching straight to its third consecutive defeat in the November presidential elections.
The three Republicans who received the most votes in Iowa — Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, in that order — competed to woo extreme-right primary voters by claiming to be the toughest against undocumented immigrants, and promising to build a wall on the border with Mexico. They seemed oblivious to the fact that Republicans lost the most recent elections because they alienated too many Hispanic voters.
The three “amigos” — Cruz, Trump and Rubio — are following the steps of failed Republican candidate Mitt Romney, who famously proposed the “self-deportation” of undocumented immigrants in 2012. Romney lost the 2012 elections in large part because he got only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote, compared to the 71 percent obtained by President Barack Obama.
By comparison, former President George W. Bush — the last Republican to win a presidential election — won the 2004 election with 44 percent of the Hispanic vote. Bush, a former governor of Texas, had campaigned as a friend of Hispanics, and of Mexico.
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What’s worse for Republicans, the Hispanic vote may be more important than ever this year. There will be a record 27.3 million Hispanic eligible voters in 2016, up from 23.3 million in the 2012 elections, according to Pew Research Center figures based on U.S. Census data. The number of eligible Latin voters will be 40 percent higher than in the 2008 elections.
While Latinos tend to vote less than other ethnic blocs, they are projected to make up a record 11.9 percent of the electorate this year, nearly tying the share of African-American voters, the Pew figures show. And a recent Latino Decisions poll of Latino likely voters in battleground states showed that 45 percent of Hispanics are viewing the Republican Party as “hostile” toward Latinos, and an additional 39 percent think that the Republican Party “doesn’t care too much” about Latinos.
It’s no wonder that U.S. Vice President Joe Biden joked recently that the Republican primary contest is “a gift from the Lord” to the Democratic Party. It’s hard to imagine how Republican candidates could be scaring away more Hispanic voters.
Trump took the lead in this immigrant-bashing rhetoric contest, famously saying at the start of his campaign that “when Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.”
But Cruz, Rubio and other Republican hopefuls are not far behind. Cruz was quick to support Trump’s first comments on Mexican immigrants in June last year, and most recently has tried to outdo Trump by vowing to “build a wall that works” and to limit legal immigration.
Cruz, who like Rubio comes from an immigrant family, said Nov. 14 that he would halt “any increases in legal immigration so long as American unemployment remains unacceptably high.”
Of course, supporters of Republican front-runners’ anti-immigration plans argue that they are not “anti-immigration,” but only “anti-illegal immigration,” and that something has to be done to stop the alleged avalanche of undocumented migrants.
But, in politics, perceptions count more than anything else, and the Republican front-runners’ rhetoric comes across as hostile to all Hispanics, not just toward undocumented immigrants.
In addition, many Republican strategists say that the Hispanic vote won’t matter that much in 2016 because most states with the largest Hispanic populations — California, Texas and New York — will not be presidential tossup states this year. That’s true, but other key states with large Latino populations, including Florida, Nevada and Colorado, can make or break this year’s elections.
My opinion: Once again, the Republican Party is committing political suicide by alienating Hispanic voters. Romney thought that he could win in 2012 by forging a coalition of angry white males, without the Hispanic vote, and he lost.
The three Republican front-runners are making his same mistake, and it’s hard to see how any of them would be able to walk away from their current positions in the general election. Unless they change their tone on immigration and Mexico, they will be energizing more Latinos to turn out on election day and vote — against them.
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Columnist Andres Oppenheimer interviews former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe at 8 a.m. on Feb. 29 at Miami Dade College, Wolfson Campus. Tickets are $25 in advance. Purchase at elnuevoheraldeventos.com.