“The door’s not going to open up to the African-American community, to the Hispanic community, until we have something to offer,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told conservatives at the Freedom Summit in New Hampshire over the weekend. Of course, he’s absolutely right. With its base growing grayer and whiter, while also shrinking as a percentage of the national vote, the Republican Party better start listening.
The problems of the GOP are no mystery. The autopsy completed by the national party after its 2012 presidential loss was 99 pages of truth-telling. Unfortunately, the party seems content to leave votes on the table by doing everything possible to make itself as inhospitable as possible to the very people it will need to remain a viable national political party.
Only a hardened Democratic partisan would deny that the Republican Party could peel away some minority voters. Once again, I call your attention to two polls done on the eve of the 2012 presidential election. The NAACP asked African American voters in Florida, Georgia, Ohio and Virginia if they would be more likely to vote Republican if the “GOP took a stand for civil rights/equality.” Fourteen percent said they would. In Florida, where President Obama won the state by just 74,000 votes, it was 15 percent.
When Hispanic voters in 11 states were surveyed for the ImpreMedia/Latino Decisions 2012 Latino Election Eve Poll, they were asked whether they would be “more likely” or “less likely” to vote GOP “if the Republican Party took a leadership role in supporting comprehensive immigration reform.” Some 31 percent said “more likely.”
According to a post-2012 election report from Resurgent Republic, the Latino vote is open to the conservative pitch for support because of ideological split among the nation’s 10.9 million Latino registered voters. While 51 percent are Democrats and 18 percent are Republicans, 54 percent of Hispanics identify as “conservative” while 39 percent say they are “liberal.”
Now, don’t forget, the GOP used to get minority votes. The high-water mark for Hispanic votes was the 44 percent of the Latino vote President George W. Bush won in 2004. For African Americans voting Republican, the high-water mark was 1972, when 18 percent of them cast ballots for President Nixon. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney was only able to attract 6 percent of the black vote and 27 percent of the Latino vote against Obama in 2012.
Which brings me back to the Gospel of Paul and his New Hampshire admonition that the GOP needed “something to offer” to blacks and Latinos to bring them into the party. During an appearance on ABC’s “This Week” yesterday, the prospective 2016 presidential candidate elaborated.
JONATHAN KARL: So you saw Eric Holder suggest there was a racial dimension to the intensity of the criticism that he has faced and Barack Obama has faced. Nancy Pelosi suggested race could have been a factor, uh, with the way Republicans have walked away from immigration reform, uh, in the House. Did — does this make it harder for you to — to appeal to those groups?
RAND PAUL: You know, I’m one of the few who has worked with Eric Holder. I had lunch with Eric Holder two or three weeks ago. I’m more than willing to work with anybody in the administration. It doesn’t have anything to do with the color of their skin. But I’m much more than willing to work with liberals or people I don’t agree with on some issues, like getting people back the right to vote when they’ve done their time, getting, uh, people a second chance, trying not to put people in jail for 50 years for youthful mistakes.
I will work with Eric Holder and the president on these things. And I will actually compliment them when they’re right. I think Eric Holder, on giving people a second chance and not putting our kids in prison for 50 years for marijuana, I think he’s right. And so I’m not afraid to say he’s right, either. But I don’t — I don’t — I guess I don’t get into the whole racial thing because I — I can’t even imagine that that is a component for anyone.
Leave aside the willful ignorance of the racial tinge of some of the criticism coming from the far right against Holder and the president. The level of respect shown Holder by Paul and his willingness to say “I’m not afraid to say he’s right” will make more than a few African Americans sit up and pay attention. Also, the unspoken compromise between Paul and the administration on “youthful mistakes” is the kind of governance rarely seen in this town anymore.
KARL: So I’m sure you saw Jeb Bush’s comments on immigration. He talked about how we shouldn’t let the immigration issue rile people up and that, uh, for — for many illegal immigrants who came into this country, it was an act of love.
KARL: Do you agree with him on this?
PAUL: You know, I think he might have been more artful, maybe, in the way he presented this. But I don’t, uh, want to say, oh, he’s terrible for saying this. If it were me, what I would have said is, people who seek the American dream are not bad people. However…
KARL: — even if they came into this country…
PAUL: — well, then…
KARL: — illegally?
PAUL: — but here’s the way I’d finish up with. They are not bad people. However, we can’t invite the whole world. When you say they’re doing an act of love and you don’t follow it up with but we have to control the border, people think, well, because they’re doing this for kind reasons, that the whole world can come to our country.
I saw a survey that said 700 million people would move to America if they could. We can’t really absorb 700 million people, nor can we absorb even tens of millions of people. So we do have to have some controlled access to our country. But the sentiment that if you came here looking for the American dream, I agree with it, you are not a bad person, but it doesn’t mean the invitation can be open to everyone.
That I’m praising Rand Paul shows how deep in the hole Republicans are. Who’s to say his softened rhetoric will last if he officially gets into the race. As Bush found out, reasonable positions educated by experience are greeted with boos and side-eyes among the Republican Party base. The “moral and political dilemma” facing the GOP on immigration that Greg Sargent writes about today faces them on a host of other issues of importance to people of color. And if Republicans don’t start reaching out to them more frequently, forcefully and in good faith, their votes will remain largely off limits.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj