Donald Trump could take a historically low share of the Hispanic vote in the 2016 election. And here's the thing: He could still win.
But what Trump's campaign is also showing is the potential for GOP disaster in the years ahead. It's not that the GOP can't win without Hispanics in the states that matter today — they can, given Hispanic voters are very underrepresented in those states. It's that the GOP's Hispanic problem could cost them dearly in the potential swing states of tomorrow.
Case in point is a new Washington Post-Survey Monkey poll of all 50 states. To even casual election observers, three purple states will stick out along the bottom: Arizona, Texas and Georgia.
These are all states Republicans are not supposed to lose. And they share something else in common: Big Hispanic populations.
Arizona and Texas happen to be two of the four most heavily Hispanic states in the country, in fact. And while Georgia's shift toward Democrats in recent years is more about a surging African American population, it, too, has seen a major increase in its Hispanic population, which more than doubled between the 2001 and 2011 Censuses.
But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that these states don't wind up being competitive in 2016 — that the definition of a 2016 swing state is closer to what we might have expected before. The voting reform group FairVote isolated 11 expected swing states back in 2013.
Hispanics in those states are very underrepresented. With the exception of Colorado, Florida and Nevada, none have big Latino populations. If you look at all swing states as a group, less than 20 percent of eligible Hispanic voters live in one of them — compared with more than 30 percent of African Americans and nearly 35 percent of whites.
This is at least part of the reason the GOP hasn't been able to get right with Hispanic voters. It knows that it should tackle things such as comprehensive immigration reform at some point, but it still has not proved to be a pressing enough concern for Republicans in Congress to fall in line.
And as I said before, it's not as if this is a deal-breaker for 2016 that makes it impossible for Republicans to win.
But this is a short-term strategy. And you need look no further than Arizona, Georgia and Texas to see why. If you lump them into the swing-state mix, for example, suddenly Hispanics are a can't-ignore group. They move from being vastly underrepresented in swing states to being overrepresented. Fully 43 percent of eligible Hispanic voters would now live in those 14 swing states, compared with 42 percent of Hispanics and 41 percent of whites.
A big reason for this, of course, is just Texas, which has more eligible Latino voters (3.9 million) than all 11 of the previously mentioned swing states combined. And between it, Arizona and Georgia, it's probably the least likely target for Democrats in this and future presidential elections.
But even if you don't consider it a swing state, adding Arizona and Georgia to the map significantly increases the onus on the GOP to do something about its ballooning Hispanic problem. Arizona would become the most heavily Hispanic swing state, surpassing Nevada, and Hispanic voters would become a crucial vote in Georgia, where white voters vote increasingly Republican and black voters vote almost uniformly Democratic.
All of this supposes, of course, that Arizona and Georgia — and maybe even Texas — are actually trending in the direction of becoming swing states. Some analysts don't agree that's actually happening or that it will come to pass any time soon. It could just be that Donald Trump is struggling in states that other Republicans would be doing just fine in.
But for a Republican Party staring down the barrel of a demographic problem in the years ahead, the idea of a competitive Arizona or Georgia should be reason enough to address this problem sooner rather than later. If those states are in play any time soon, the GOP's Hispanic problem becomes significantly more acute in a hurry.