The Coffin of the Bush Coalition

TNR’s Nate Cohn is just the latest of many to point out that Marco Rubio’s putative “savior of the Republican Party” status may be based on a serious misunderstanding of the multiple sources of Latino Democratic support, and of the very limited ability of a Cuban-American right-winger to reduce it.

But Cohn adds something to the discussion that is perhaps more important: even the best-case scenario for the impact of a Rubio presidential candidacy on Latinos probably involves too few votes to overcome the continuing pro-Democratic demographic drift:

Could the combination of Rubio’s ethnicity and his support for immigration reform yield the gains Republicans need? Not likely, if the GOP plans on winning from those gains alone. The president won by nearly 4 points last November and, according to the exit polls, Latinos represented just 10 percent of the electorate. Gaining a net-4 points out of 10 percent of the electorate is extremely difficult—it would require the Republicans to gain 20 points among Latino voters, if all other groups are held constant. In other words, it would require the GOP to draw a higher percentage of the Latino vote than ever before. Worse still, the Electoral College reduces the significance of Latino voters, who are concentrated in uncompetitive states and play a negligible role in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, and the other Midwestern battlegrounds. Even in states where Latinos play a more significant role, like Colorado, Obama’s margins of victory were too great for Republican to expect that gains among Hispanics would flip the state red.

Republicans have been comforting themselves that they ought to be able to get back to the performance among Latinos of their last president, George W. Bush. But that’s not enough any more. As Cohn puts it:

In fact, Rubio’s appeal risks trapping the GOP within the coffin of the Bush coalition at a time when they need to figure out how to break out of it.

The idea of putting together a majority by solidifying the GOP’s white conservative “base” and pulling votes from a few swing voter categories (e.g., Latinos, married women) via strategic policy initiatives was at the very heart of Karl Rove’s strategy for W., which collapsed amidst large-scale defections during Bush’s second term. It would be harder than ever today, particularly if its vehicle is someone like Rubio, who is only a super-star to his fellow hard-core conservatives, desperate for any electoral strategy other than a basic reevaluation of GOP ideology.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.