In four sentences, Steve Schmidt, the man who managed John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, laid out the problem for his party on immigration.
House Republicans “are totally insulated from public opinion on this because of redistricting,” Schmidt told the New York Times’ Robert Draper. “Republicans are gonna continue to hold the House. But then we’ll head into the 2016 presidential election where the electorate is likely to be 2 percent less white than it was in 2012 and 4 percent less white than it was in 2008. This is a simple math equation.”
Schmidt is right — about both the political disincentive for most House Republicans to sign on to any comprehensive immigration reform deal that would include a path to citizenship for undocumented workers and the problem that reluctance will almost certainly cause for the GOP’s 2016 nominee.
The cavernous difference between what’s good for the House GOP and what’s good for the party more broadly could well mean that Republicans hold a chamber — or maybe both chambers — of Congress at the end of 2016 but remain out of the White House for 12 straight years.
Let’s flesh out Schmidt’s diagnosis of his party, starting in the House. The last two rounds of redistricting — 2000 and 2010 — have, largely, functioned as incumbent protection operations for both parties, meaning that there are only a handful of seats that are genuinely competitive between the two parties. (The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates just nine seats in the country as pure “toss ups”; that’s roughly two percent of all House seats.)
Because Hispanic voters have been moving more and more Democratic in recent elections, drawing safe seats for Republicans over the past two decades has meant keeping Latino voters largely off GOP members’ turf.
“Just 40 of the 232 Republicans in the House come from districts that are more than 20 percent Hispanic, and just 16 from districts that are at least one-third Hispanic. At the other end of the spectrum, 142 districts represented by Republicans are less than 10 percent Hispanic. In all, 84 percent of House Republicans represent districts that are 20 percent or less Hispanic.”
That more than eight in 10 Republicans hold districts where fewer than one in five residents are Hispanic tells you almost everything you need to know about why the issue seems a lot less pressing to the majority of House GOPers than it is to the party’s 2016 wannabes and its strategist class. That less than 7 percent of the current Republican majority represent districts that are at least one-third Hispanic tells you the rest of what you need to know.
Now to the national electorate, which, as Schmidt notes, continues to get less and less white — which means that the dominance Republican presidential nominees have enjoyed among that voting bloc continues to matter less and less over time.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s study of the 2012 electorate, the total number of white voters decreased by roughly 2 million in 2012 as compared to 2008, the first time since 1996 that a “race group” (as they describe it) has seen a diminution in net votes cast. And, in the last five presidential elections, the white share of the electorate has dipped by nine points; the Hispanic share has risen four points in that time while African Americans’ votes have increased by three percentage points.
Then there is the fact that Republican presidential candidates have simply been unable to grow their non-white voter share. In 2012, just 11 percent of Republican voters weren’t white; 44 percent of Democratic voters were non-white.
To be clear, simply passing an immigration bill isn’t a panacea for Republicans. As we have written repeatedly, a Republican Party that helped pass immigration reform may well still not be a party that most — or even some larger portion of — Hispanics are willing to vote for (or consider voting for).
But, equally clear is that in not passing a comprehensive immigration bill, not only would House Republicans bear the brunt of the blame, but they would also make it that much harder for the party’s presidential nominee to bridge the gap with Latinos in 2016.
The House GOP’s current stance on immigration makes political sense — for them. But for the party writ large, it could spell another four years, at least, out of presidential power.
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