Three sentences on immigration that will haunt Republicans in 2016

In the wake of Mitt Romney's stinging 2012 defeat, the Republican National Committee commissioned and released an autopsy of what was wrong with the party -- and how to fix it.


That autopsy, which was released in the spring of 2013, contained these three sentences on immigration reform.

"We are not a policy committee, but among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community  and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that  comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all."

It's worth remembering those words today as all parties -- from President Obama on down -- have declared comprehensive immigration reform dead for this year and with many experts predicting that nothing will happen on the issue until after the 2016 presidential election. Because of the action -- or, more accurately, the lack of action -- from House Republicans in the year since a comprehensive bill passed the Senate, it is now more likely that the occupant of the White House after that election will be a Democrat.

Don't take my word for it. Here again, the Republican autopsy report.

"If Hispanic Americans hear that the GOP doesn’t want them in the United States, they won’t pay attention to our next sentence. It doesn’t matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think that we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies. In essence, Hispanic voters tell us our Party’s position on immigration has become a litmus test, measuring whether we are meeting them with a welcome mat or a closed door."

That's strong language. But accurate given the daunting demographic challenges facing the GOP when it comes to the Hispanic vote.

In the 2012 election, just one in every ten votes Romney won was non-white; he took a meager 27 percent of the Hispanic vote -- down from the 31 percent for John McCain in 2008 and 40 percent for George W. Bush in 2004. The white vote also continued its steady downward slide as a percentage of the overall vote; in 2012, whites comprised 72 percent of the general electorate -- the lowest ever measured.

Republicans only need to look to California for a worst-case scenario of what their inability/refusal to pass legislation to reform the immigration system could mean. In the 1994 election, Proposition 187, which banned illegal immigrants from state-provided education and other social services, passed via a ballot initiative.  Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, running for re-election that same year, strongly supported the measure. It helped Wilson win -- but also helped tank the long-term Republican prospects in the state.  Check out this amazing chart via Latino Decisions about the pre-187 and post-187 political landscapes in California:

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 1.35.32 PM

Those are striking changes. And while they can't be solely attributed to Prop. 187 and Wilson's support for it, it was quite clearly a major factor in the turning of California from a swing(ish) state to a Democratic stronghold.

Now, Prop. 187 and House Republicans' unwillingness to pass any sort of immigration reform are not a perfect comparison. Prop. 187 was a vote that made quite clear how a majority of Californians (and the state's Republican governor) felt about a chunk of the state's immigrant community.  House Republicans were involved in no such prooactive move but rather more passively let the possibility of passing some sort of law wither on the vine. That might not be as bad as what happened in California 20 years ago in terms of alienating the Latino community but it certainly isn't a good thing for GOPers.

"It is encouraging that there are many Republican leaders both in the House and the Senate working on immigration proposals," reads the Republican autopsy. "As the party advocates for positive solutions on immigration, we will be more successful appealing to Hispanic voters on other issues." At the moment, Republicans are best known among Latinos for a lack of solutions on immigration. And that will come back to haunt them in 2016.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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