The impending Republican dividePosted: 2012/11/12
[Note: I am not a Republican, but I am not a Democrat either. I'm attempting to be as objective as possible here.]
One of the most consistent threads in post-election analysis has been that the Republican Party failed to reach out to Hispanic voters, thereby losing most of their votes and in consequence being weakened in the presidential election. As Hispanics are expected to grow as a percentage of voters, this does not bode well for the future of the Republican Party.
There are two errors implicit in this line of reasoning, and they stem from the same sloppy thinking. The Republican Party and Hispanic voters are not homogeneous groups. There are a number of analytically useful subgroups within them.
The more obvious error
“Hispanic” is an extraordinarily broad category and for U.S. political purposes covers a source population of hundreds of millions. The U.S. government defines it: ‘The term “Hispanic” refers to persons who trace their origin or descent to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central and South America, and other Spanish cultures.’ I need hardly point out that people from such a broad range of cultures may have divergent viewpoints on politics, to say nothing of the ordinary religious, socioeconomic, and regional breakdowns within each culture.
Beyond that, as a greater percentage of the population becomes Hispanic, a greater percentage of Hispanics will likely vote Republican. That is, as immigrants assimilate into American culture—and the existing American gene pool—they begin to vote more like the Americans who were already there. (There are parts of the United States that have been Hispanic-dominated since before these parts were in the United States, but I am given to understand that immigration is the driving force behind the growth of the Hispanic population overall.) In 50 years, a person with three ethnic Norwegian grandparents and one Mexican grandparent will be Hispanic by the government definition but may have little interest in self-identifying that way or voting for candidates more preferred by recent Dominican immigrants.
I find this point interesting, but for present purposes the discussion so far has been a warm up to the next point.
The less obvious error
As a whole, yes, we can argue that the Republican Party did not give sufficient attention to Hispanic voters during the 2012 campaign from the perspective of Republican strategists trying only to garner the numbers necessary to win. However, the Republican Party comprises many different entities and interests. To say that it simply failed to give enough attention to the Hispanic vote ignores the reality of its composition.
For many Republicans, this lack of effort to attract Hispanic votes was not omission but commission. The South* is the dominant region in the Republican Party, and it seems to me that a critical mass of Southern Republicans express a lingering cultural-historical racism by being consciously hostile to expanding their outreach to Hispanics. Please note that I am not saying all Southern Republicans are racist, or even that most are. I would not make those statements because I don’t believe they’re true. All it takes is a critical mass that, consciously or unconsciously, takes an “us vs. them” view seriously enough to change the tone for the national Republican Party. This group is small but is influential beyond its size because of the deep-rooted cultural nature of this viewpoint. Politics is epiphenomenal to culture.
We can take racial integration in the 1950s and 1960s as an example. Granted, the percentage of actual racists was higher then, but it’s still illustrative of the general lines I’m thinking on. Some whites supported integration, and many may not themselves have been racist but simply went along with the racist status quo. The people most fiercely opposed to integration were the most vociferous and organized. The U.S. in general and the South in particular has made a lot of progress on this front, but enough of a remnant persists, even if not explicitly based on race, that the Republican Party’s hands are largely tied on this issue.
I assume that the Republican Party leadership hopes to win a presidential race sometime ever again, and like all political calculations there are very few or no principles they aren’t willing to compromise. Thus, decreasing the influence of the South in the Republican Party should be the number one goal of national-level Republican Party strategists between now and the 2016 primary season. This is where the title of this post comes from: there will be a power struggle between the South and everybody else, or at least there will be if their strategists are clear-sighted enough.
Once the influence of this subgroup of a subgroup of the Republican Party is diminished enough, there will be little or no resistance to reaching out to more Hispanics. Granted, some parts of the platform will need to evolve, but this kind of evolution is the natural course of politics. Unless the Republican Party goes into a long-term or permanent decline, this is what will have to happen.
* I am using this term in David Hackett Fischer’s cultural sense. It corresponds roughly to the darker red areas on this map of the Cotton Belt.