Tuesday’s election results were a crushing blow for all conservatives, but as one of the most prominent immigration policy hawks in America, Mark Krikorian is in an especially difficult position. Mitt Romney’s atrocious 27 percent showing among Hispanics immediately bolstered voices within the Republican Party who have been calling for the GOP to soften its line on immigration. In a piece over at National Review, Krikorian tries his best to wrestle with the results. He makes some fair points. For instance, he notes that Hispanics are closer to Democrats on economic issues, and that may explain their votes more than the immigration issue. But at the same time, I think he underplays how damaging eroding support among Hispanics was to Romney — putting aside the issue of what role immigration played.
But, the open-borders Right will say, Bush got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004! Actually, he got more like 38 to 40 percent, because the national exit-poll results were simply incorrect. But even so, that’s better than Romney (or McCain) got and has become the benchmark figure for the pro-amnesty Right. But even if Romney had gotten a similar share of the Hispanic vote, he still would have lost the election. It might have made a difference in Florida and Nevada, but not in Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, or Virginia. There are deep problems with the GOP brand that have nothing to do with immigration.
It’s true that Romney’s loss can be attributed to a number of factors. The problem with Krikorian’s analysis is that all it means is that Obama won the electoral vote by a solid margin, so he could have afforded to lose some states and still emerge victorious. But the “Romney would have lost anyway” argument neglects the fact that his dismal performance among Hispanics made the race unwinnable. Even if we accept Krikorian’s view that the Hispanic vote only mattered in Florida and Nevada, when you add those states to the already solid blue states, it means spotting Democrats 236 electoral votes. All Obama or any Democratic candidate would need to get over the top at that point would be to win Michigan and Pennsylvania — two states that have gone Democratic every year since 1988. Failing that, Democrats would have multiple other combinations to get over 270. In contrast, a Republican who lost those states could still lose the election even if he or she won all of the reliably red states in addition to North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire, Colorado, Iowa and Wisconsin.
Again, this analysis is conservative. In 2004, Bush carried New Mexico with 44 percent of the Hispanic vote, but this year the state wasn’t even in play. Also, Hispanics made up 14 percent of the electorate in Colorado, providing Obama with his margin of victory there. Add Colorado to the Democratic fold, and the electoral math becomes even more daunting for Republicans.
Another argument Krikorian advances is that Obama won 17 percent of the vote of self-identified conservatives, and since they made up 35 percent of the electorate, he argues that this is more fertile ground for Republican gains than chasing Hispanic votes. There are two reasons why I’m skeptical of this argument. First, it’s unclear whether all of those people who identify as “conservative” use the word in the same way that National Review readers would. Some people like to say they’re “fiscal conservatives,” for instance, and to them it means favoring higher taxes. Exits also found that 11 percent of liberals voted for Romney. Secondly, the Hispanic vote isn’t static. In reality, it keeps growing — from 2 percent of the electorate in 1980, to 7 percent in 2000, to 10 percent in 2012. So if Republicans don’t find a way to appeal to Hispanic voters, their challenges in presidential elections will become even steeper.
To be clear, I think that narrowly focusing on immigration is likely an over simplification of a very complex issue that warrants further analysis. But as a starting point, conservatives shouldn’t downplay the magnitude of the problem Republicans have with Hispanic voters.