Another Latino Debacle?

It’s getting harder every day to recall that the Republican Party was actually competitive among Latino voters a decade ago. Now that it’s obvious the party has chosen to foresake any opportunity to return to those days and instead bow to the nativist impulses of the conservative “base,” the question is how much worse can it get? The marginally improved performance of the GOP among Latinos in the 2014 midterms probably tempted some to think disgruntlement with Obama would trump estrangement from the elephant party. But since then, of course, the president’s executive action on immigration provided fresh impetus to “deport ’em all” messaging, and the jockeying for position during the Invisible Primary for 2016 is not going to help.

A new Latino Decisions analysis seeks to measure how perceptions of certain leading Republican proto-candidates for the presidency changed betwee the summer of 2013, when it first became clear House Republicans would block any action on comprehensive immigration reform, and November of 2014. They tested the two Cuban-American proto-candidates, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz; Jeb Bush, who has long-standing ties with Latinos and obviously benefits from his brother’s relatively positive reputation in that community; and Rand Paul, who’s made a lot of noise about GOP outreach to minority voters.

In 2013 Rubio and Cruz actually had net favorable approval/disapproval ratings among Latinos, but with very high “don’t know” numbers. The better-known Bush came in at 27/39, with Paul, also largely an unknown quantity, registering at a terrible 17/27. By November 2014, all four had net negative approval ratios, with Cruz and Rubio losing the most ground.

Again, this is all before the post-election conflict over the president’s latest executive action.

We still have the better part of one year before the Iowa Caucuses and things can change, but it is very hard to imagine the potential GOP candidates moving towards a more moderate or pro-immigration reform position as they attempt to woo Republican primary voters. What exactly do they need to do? A Latino Decisions/Presente.org survey found that an overwhelming 89% of Latino voters supported the executive action for undocumented parents — including 76% of Latino Republicans; and likewise 80% of Latino voters said they are opposed to efforts to block or defund the executive action. In direct contrast to Latino public opinion, recent efforts by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives points to a path consistent with the Mitt Romney approach. In December 2014 Republicans in the House voted to block Obama’s 2014 executive action for undocumented parents. In January 2015 Republicans in the House voted to cancel all funding for Obama’s executive action for undocumented parents. Others such as Ted Cruz have threatened to consider a government shutdown in an effort to block Obama’s executive action for undocumented parents. There are now 26 states where Republican Attorneys General or Governors have signed on to a lawsuit attempting to stop the executive action for undocumented parents, and most recently Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has announced his party plans to sue Obama in an effort to stop the President’s plan to protect undocumented parents from deportation. Despite their own warnings in a GOP published “honest review of the 2012 election cycle” the statements, votes and lawsuits promoted by Republicans run entirely counter to the advice they gave themselves.

That’s if anything an understatement.

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.