Francis Wilkinson writes at Bloomberg: “Romney won among all voters making more than $100,000 a year by a margin of 54-44. Asian-Americans happen to be the highest-earning group in the U.S., out-earning whites, and they generally place enormous emphasis on family. A perfect fit for Republicans, no? No. Asians voted for Obama by 73-26; they were more Democratic than Hispanics.” That is stunning to many conservatives who don’t seem to understand why an upwardly mobile group with a strong work ethic, devotion to family and dedication to education wouldn’t be attracted to their party. But like other non-white groups, Asians are running from the GOP: “Blacks vote Democratic 9-1; Asians 3-1; Hispanics almost 3-1. Support for immigration reform will help. But Democrats have a four-decade head start in building and managing multiracial coalitions. Republicans have a lot of catching up to do in a hurry.”
It is important that Republicans see that they don’t have “an Asian” problem and then “an Hispanic problem,” oh, and then a separate “African American problem.” The problem I would suggest is essentially the same: How does an overwhelmingly white party that has by and large adopted an exclusionist position on immigration and given a prominent place to evangelical Christians reach nonwhites, particularly young nonwhite voters?
Opponents of immigration reform say that the “Asian problem” can’t be because of the party’s stance on illegal immigration because that’s an issue primarily related to Hispanic immigrants from our hemisphere. Wrong.
The party’s position on immigration is off-putting to many ethnic and racial groups because it reflects, they believe, a GOP that doesn’t want them and doesn’t want a diverse society.
David Goldman offers some insight on the subject:
Asian-Americans, like any other immigrant group, come here with the hope of bringing family members with them. Tough enforcement of immigration laws makes life as hard for them as it does for any other immigrant group, and frustrates their hope of reuniting families in America. The result of our present immigration laws is that we fail to keep out the illegals we don’t want, and make it harder to absorb the skilled and energetic immigrants we do want. There will be endless discussion during the next few months of [Mitt] Romney’s mistake in moving to the right of Rick Perry on immigration during the Republican primaries, and I will leave the detailed parsing to the professionals. I hope the professionals talk to Asian-Americans first.
Asians now outnumber Hispanics among new immigrants. As Goldman puts it, “If we Republicans can’t persuade our most successful, entrepreneurial, family-oriented citizens to support us, we won’t be in business much longer.”
In the short run Republicans need to do the simple things in elections that Democrats do — ads in native languages; local and state Republican groups to identify candidates, donors and voters; and a determination to explain why conservatism works for these Americans.
About four years ago, when the GOP had badly lost another presidential election, I spent a day driving around with then-Virginia gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell. There were three stops: a women’s group in Mount Vernon, an Asian business group in Annandale and a Hispanic professionals group.
His message was not much different to them than it was to white voters (make the state business friendly, don’t raise taxes, live within our means, get along with Democrats), but he did three critical things. First, he showed up saying he wanted their votes and acknowledged that the GOP had not made clear they want women, minorities and new arrivals to be part of the GOP. Second, he emphasized school choice and access to state universities. Third, he talked about government regulation strangling small business, limiting access to capital and blocking success. Aside from briefly restating his position on abortion in response to questions, he made clear he wasn’t changing his pro-life views but neither was he going to spend a great deal of time on those issues. Undoubtedly he made these sorts of campaign stops hundreds of times before he won by 17 points, carrying heavily Hispanic Prince William County and running neck-and-neck in Annandale’s heavily Asian precincts.
Now it is worth noting that McDonnell had visited these communities in his campaign and during his tenure as attorney general. He was not a stranger to voters. In sum, he was personally approachable and made the case to these voters in a way that resonated with them. It takes time, effort and a willingness to prioritize issues. Republicans better get going now and better start showing up in diverse communities and filling the ranks of local and state office with non-white Republicans. They sorely need to, as they have done to some degree with Hispanics, diversify their stable of candidates and office holders.
This isn’t rocket science. Insisting that the appeal of the party can remain extremely limited to nonwhite voters and that immigration doesn’t affect the party’s image with all nonwhite voters is a road to political oblivion. The immigration exclusionists and opponents of diversifying the party (That’s pandering!), who think all-white, upper-class males can sell the party to everyone have had their shot. In how many presidential elections have they delivered a majority for the GOP? Maybe it’s time to try appealing to the voters whose support Republicans need by showing up with candidates who can connect with them and a message that appeals to those for whom the American dream burns especially bright.