Everyone knows that Republicans have a problem winning over Hispanic voters, a problem they need to solve by 2016:
In 2004, George W. Bush won 44 percent of Hispanics. Four years later, John McCain, the author of an immigration reform bill, took 31 percent of Hispanics. And this year, Romney captured only 27 percent of Hispanics.But the notion that they're actually going to do anything substantive about this problem, particularly by moderating their stance on immigration, reminds me of the notion -- expressed by many in-the-know insider journalists and pundits -- that in the 2008 primary season surely some Republican hoping to win the presidency (apart from Ron Paul) would break with George W. Bush on the Iraq War. Needless to say, that never happened.
What tends to happen in Republican primary seasons is that there's one establishment-favorite candidate who's allegedly moderate. He gets the nomination because he's running against a bunch of losers and loons, folks who can't win even though they're much more likely to meet the party's purist litmus tests. But the supposedly moderate victor doesn't win by staying moderate -- he wins by abandoning most of his moderation.
That's what's going to happen in 2016 on immigration.
In '08, the GOP nominated John McCain, who'd once been skeptical about the Bush tax cuts (but no longer was), who'd occasionally criticized aspects of Bush's foreign policy (but was now one of its most fervent defenders), and who'd been an advocate of immigration reform (but no longer was). In '12, the GOP nominated Mitt Romney, who'd once been in favor of abortion rights and universal health coverage and dealing with climate change (but now was unswervingly against them). The selling point in the fall elections in '08 and '12 was that voters outside the GOP base should vote for these guys because they used to oppose the wingnut orthodoxy on these issues.
It didn't work, obviously -- but given the impossibility of winning the GOP primaries without tacking to the right, I think it's going to happen again. In
The GOP candidate could try to fudge matters by laying out a diversionary position -- for instance, calling for an increase in legal immigration without budging from the hard-line position on dealing with undocumented residents. Once again, though, it won't work. But Republicans hope will spring eternal.