Defending the "Gang of Eight" immigration reform bill on Fox News Sunday, Senator Lindsay Graham sounded the bleat of panic: "If it fails, and we are blamed for its failure, our party is in trouble with Hispanics, not because we are conservative but because of the rhetoric and the way we handled this issue. I want to get reattached to the Hispanic community, to sell conservativism, pass comprehensive immigration reform and grow this party. The party has got to be bigger than Utah and South Carolina. The Hispanic community is close to our values, but we have driven them away over this issue."
As someone who approves some provisions of the proposed legislation, it's still unsettling to see such self-delusion on the part of proponents. The laudable impulse to improve the Republican Party's standing among Hispanics should not lead to embracing a bad bill. Nor should Republicans imagine that immigration reform is a magic bullet that will initiate a flood of Hispanic voters into Republican ranks.
I agree with Graham that the tone of the Republican Party on immigration probably hurt it with Hispanics and other ethnic groups. Romney lost the Asian vote by 73 to 26. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. It's just a guess that talk of "self deportation" is what drove Hispanics and other groups away. Polls suggest that Hispanics are a reliably liberal voting group on all issues and just a bit more liberal on offering illegals a path to legal status (77 percent favor) than the general population (65 percent favor). The Pew Survey found that 30 percent of Hispanics call themselves liberal, versus 21 percent of the general population.
It's also possible that Romney did poorly with minorities at least in part because he didn't court them very energetically. Obama, for example, spent $12.4 million for 15,000 Spanish language radio ads, while Romney spent $9.7 million for 8500 ads. (Ironically, Obama drove a harder bargain on ads than the famously successful businessman Romney.) Paul Ryan's suggestion that the ticket campaign in poor and minority neighborhoods was reportedly rebuffed.
Still, while the Hispanic community is more liberal than the general population, it remains persuadable. (If it isn't, Republicans aren't going to win any more elections anyway, as the Hispanic share of the population continues to grow.) Sixty-three percent of Hispanics call themselves conservative or moderate. Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute has found an intriguing difference between voting and non-voting Hispanics. The non-voters lean more to the right.