U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s announcement that he is running for the Republican presidential nomination is great news for Democrats: He will push the other Republican hopefuls to the right on immigration, further scaring away Hispanic voters and making it more difficult for Republicans to win next year’s elections.
The Canadian-born son of a Cuban father and a U.S.-born mother, Cruz — a first-term Republican senator from Texas — is one of the most rabid critics of President Obama’s executive action to regularize the legal status of up to 5 million undocumented immigrants, most of them Hispanic.
Cruz has called on Congress to defund Obama’s measures to give temporary legal status to undocumented immigrants who pay taxes and meet other conditions, and has supported greater local police powers to ask people who are detained on the street about their immigration status.
Not surprisingly, a recent Latino Decisions poll found that, despite Cruz’s Hispanic heritage, he has little support among Latinos. The poll of Latino support for several Republican hopefuls, including Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Rand Paul and Cruz, found that Cruz and Paul were the least liked among Hispanic voters.
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Only 24 percent of Latino voters said they would consider voting for Cruz, while 73 percent said they would not consider voting for him, the Latino Decisions poll said. Comparatively, 32 percent said they would consider voting for Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor — a moderate on immigration issues — while 62 percent said they would not consider voting for him.
The conventional wisdom among political pundits in Washington is that Cruz, a darling of the Tea Party, has little chance of winning the Republican primary, let alone the 2016 general election. He is widely perceived as too dogmatic, too fanatical and too inexperienced to run for president.
But Cruz’s decision to be the first Republican hopeful to announce his candidacy has drawn a lot of media attention, and may force fellow Republican presidential hopefuls to move further to the right in order not to be perceived as “soft” among ultra-conservatives in the primary states.
Frank Sharry, head of the pro-immigration America’s Voice think tank, told me that Cruz’s candidacy “will push the Republican field to the right on immigration, making it more likely that whoever emerges from the primary will be unelectable in the general election.”
What about the argument that whoever wins the Republican primary can later change his views on immigration in the general elections, and that most Republican voters would understand that?
“It doesn’t work that way,” Sharry said. “Mitt Romney’s statements on immigration during the primaries, when he referred to ‘self-deportation’ and said that the Arizona law should be a model for the rest of the country, defined him as a candidate in the general election.”
Republican organizer Richard A. Viguerie, head of the ConservativeHQ.com website, celebrated earlier this week that Cruz’s announcement will have a major impact in the Republican primaries. “Every Republican candidate for president will have to move significantly to the right, starting with Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, and define their position on amnesty for illegal aliens” and other issues, he said on his website. “They will all have to move right to respond to Cruz, or be left behind by a grassroots conservative electorate fed up with Republican candidates who are merely principle-free messengers for an out of touch Washington elite.”
My opinion: If Cruz’s campaign gets traction, Republicans will be shooting themselves in the foot once again for failing to pay attention to the Hispanic vote.
A big majority of U.S. Latinos vote Democratic, and most pollsters agree that any Republican presidential candidate would need between 40 percent and 44 percent of the Latino vote to win a general election.
The last Republican president, George W. Bush, got about 44 percent of the Latino vote in the 2004 election, and won. By comparison, Mitt Romney, a centrist who adopted an anti-immigration rhetoric during the Republican primaries, was defeated by Obama by 71 percent to 27 percent among Latino voters in the 2012 election.
The big question now is whether Bush, the last remaining moderate on immigration issues among the big-name Republican hopefuls, will shift to more anti-immigrant views during the primaries.
If he does, we can already anticipate the results of the 2016 elections: Barring a big surprise on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton will carry the bulk of the Hispanic vote, and be the next U.S. president. She must be Cruz’s biggest cheerleader these days.