May 30, 2013

Last week, Phyillis Schafley — a long-time and powerful conservative activist — signed her name to a letter produced by right-wing opponents of immigration reform.

The coalition of conservatives — which included Rich Lowrey of National Review, Redstate.com editor Erick Erickson, and former Florida Rep. Alan West — urged Senate Republicans to abandon the project of comprehensive immigration reform. “No matter how well-intentioned, the Schumer-Rubio bill suffers from fundamental design flaws that make it unsalvageable,” the letter said. The signatories claim to support reform, but not the particular proposal crafted by the “Gang of Eight.”

If recent remarks by Schafly are any indication, however, this isn’t an accurate depiction of her real objection to immigration reform. On a conservative radio show yesterday, Schafly called the GOP’s need to reach out to Latino voters a “great myth.” Here’s more from Talking Points Memo:

“The Hispanics who have come in like this will vote Democrat and there’s not the slightest bit of evidence that they will vote Republican,” Schlafly said on “Focus Today.” “And the people the Republicans should reach out to are the white votes, the white voters who didn’t vote in the last election and there are millions of them.”

Schlafly told PolicyMic she believes that Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential election because “his drop-off from white voters was tremendous” and the GOP doesn’t “know how to relate to grassroots Americans.”

There’s some truth here. Even with a higher share of the Latino vote, Mitt Romney would have lost the presidential election. The only thing that could have saved his bid was a greater number of white voters, concentrated in the swing states that determined the election.

But that misses the point of calls for more GOP outreach to Latinos. Yes, in last year’s election, Latino voters weren’t critical to Mitt Romney’s performance. And yes, Republicans are likely to fare well in next year’s midterm elections, on account of low turnout and a greater proportion of white voters in the electorate. But the point of passing comprehensive immigration reform — and building new inroads into the Latino community — is to lay a foundation for future elections.

The trends are clear: over the next few decades, the proportion of voters who self-identify as Hispanic will grow, and the largest increases will happen in traditionally GOP states like Georgia, Arizona and Texas. A Republican Party that mends its relationship with Latino voters now will be in a better position to capitalize on these changes in the future.

The Schafly route might be a more sure way to short-term gain, but it could harm the GOP’s long-term fortunes, as Latinos turn decisively away from a party that has no interest in providing material benefits to them or other nonwhite voters.

Unfortunately, for the Republican Party, Phyllis Schafly isn’t alone in her skepticism. House Republicans, like Rep. Tim Huelskamp, feel similarly. “There is no evidence to support this idea that Republicans will pick up a lot of votes if we give amnesty to 11 million folks.”

If they get their way, then comprehensive immigration reform dies, and the GOP takes another step on the road toward irrelevance.

Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer at The American Prospect, where he writes a blog.