Short-term gain, long-term sacrifice

SHORT-TERM GAIN, LONG-TERM SACRIFICE…. When Republican leaders embraced partial repeal of the 14th Amendment, knowing full well that this isn’t going to happen, it seemed pretty obvious that we were seeing a cynical, nativist, election-year scheme at work. The message wasn’t even subtle — the GOP is prepared to be just as reactionary as its base when it comes to immigration, even if that means going through the motions on giving the Constitution a little touch-up.

The goal is to win some votes in the short term. Harold Meyerson reminds us that the ploy — and the larger effort behind it — will very likely cost far more votes in the long term.

By proposing to revoke the citizenship of the estimated 4 million U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants — and, presumably, the children’s children and so on down the line — Republicans are calling for more than the creation of a permanent noncitizen caste. They are endeavoring to solve what is probably their most crippling long-term political dilemma: the racial diversification of the electorate. Not to put too fine a point on it, they are trying to preserve their political prospects as a white folks’ party in an increasingly multicolored land.

Absent a constitutional change — to a lesser degree, even with it — those prospects look mighty bleak. The demographic base of the Republican Party, as Ruy Teixeira demonstrates in a paper released by the Center for American Progress this summer, is shrinking as a share of the nation and the electorate. As the nation grows more racially and religiously diverse, Teixeira shows, its percentage of white Christians will decline to just 35 percent of the population by 2040.

The group that’s growing fastest, of course, is Latinos. “Their numbers will triple to 133 million by 2050 from 47 million today,” Teixeira writes, “while the number of non-Hispanic whites will remain essentially flat.” Moreover, Latinos increasingly trend Democratic — in a Gallup poll this year, 53 percent self-identified as Democrats; just 21 percent called themselves Republican.

I got the sense that the Bush/Cheney team was very cognizant of this. The Bush team proposed a fair and reasonable approach to comprehensive immigration reform; made an effort to promote ethnic diversity in the administration; and made sure the former president spent plenty of time doing outreach (and pretending to speak Spanish). The result was a very competitive contest for the Latino vote in 2004.

Those efforts appear to have been tossed aside entirely, replaced not only with cynicism and divisiveness, but sacrificing the Republican Party’s future for immediate gain. It’s less of a gamble and more of last-gasp strategy — let’s just get all the angry white votes we can get right now, the argument goes, even if it means driving a fast-growing minority away for a generation.

So, we get the 14th-Amendment talk from Republicans, as well as intense hostility for comprehensive reform, support for Arizona’s odious anti-immigration law, etc.

It’s not that GOP leaders aren’t aware of the electoral trade-off, it’s that they just don’t seem to care.