More problematic for Republicans is the drift of Hispanic voters into the Democratic fold. Obama won among Hispanic voters by 44 percentage points this year, up eight points from 2008.
“Hispanics are an ever-important part of the electorate that can’t be ignored. The scope of the challenge is broad, but there is opportunity ahead for conservatives to engage,” Jennifer S. Korn of the Hispanic Leadership Network, a Republican-funded group designed to do outreach, wrote in a memo circulated over the weekend.
Korn warned that two reliably Republican states worth 49 electoral votes combined could become swing states if demographic trendlines continue. In 2004, George W. Bush tied in the Hispanic vote in Texas and lost in Arizona by 13 percentage points. Romney lost the Hispanic vote by more than 40 points in both states.
After several years of focusing on border security as the centerpiece of their immigration proposals, many senior party officials have reversed course and suggested that they should at least support the DREAM Act, which would allow the children of illegal immigrants to avoid deportation.
Such a move would spark a huge internal fight with some conservatives. Dan Stein, president of the hard-line Federation for American Immigration Reform, insisted that the 2012 election was decided on issues other than immigration and that the push for the party to change its position represents opportunism by those who have always favored a more accommodating approach. He said the party’s elite is captive to business interests who favor increased immigration to reduce labor costs.
“There’s no evidence, none, that amnesty will bond Hispanics to the Republican Party,” he said. “This post-election chatter is coming from people who, for the most part, have generally disagreed with the need for stronger border control or less immigration. . . . This is going to be a long, protracted debate.”
The 2014 Senate races will serve as a test for establishment control of the political process. For the third consecutive cycle, Republicans will begin as heavy favorites to gain a large bloc of seats, and some party leaders want a bigger role in choosing those nominees. In 2010 and 2012, Republicans say, bad nominees in Colorado, Delaware, Indiana, Missouri and Nevada cost them what should have been easy victories. If those seats were in GOP hands today, the Senate would be deadlocked at 50-50.
Some outside groups, however, stand ready to fight for the most conservative nominee, pointing to Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) as examples of rising stars who won Senate races without establishment support.
“The party is rarely in a position to determine the best candidate,” said Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth. “When you have someone who can articulate a clear, convincing, conservative message, they win.”