What defeat does to a party

Panicked conservatives are changing their tune on immigration, but the damage to their base may be permanent

Topics: Opening Shot,

What defeat does to a partyJohn Boehner (Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

One of the most critical questions for the future of the Republican Party is whether and how it adjusts its posture toward Latinos in the years and decades ahead.

Since Tuesday, a number of prominent Republicans have spoken out to acknowledge what seems obvious: Surrendering 71 percent of the Latino vote to the Democrats cost them dearly this year and is utterly untenable moving forward.

House Speaker John Boehner became the latest to do so on Thursday, telling ABC’s Diane Sawyer that “I think what Republicans need to learn is – how do we speak to all Americans?  You know, not just to people who look like us and act like us, but how do we speak to all Americans?” Boehner then made news by expressing his desire to reach a bipartisan deal for comprehensive immigration.

“[W]hile I believe it’s important for us to secure our borders and to enforce our laws,” he said, “I think a comprehensive approach is long overdue, and I’m confident that the president, myself, others, can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all.

For the last half-decade or so, this kind of talk from a Republican leader has been grounds for an intraparty revolt. That Boehner, who has been very hesitant to say or do anything that puts him at odds with the Tea Party-era GOP base, feels safe saying this on national television is the clearest sign yet of how jarring Tuesday’s verdict was to the right.  And he’s not alone. On Thursday, Sean Hannity told his radio listeners that he now support a “pathway to citizenship” for law-abiding undocumented workers.

“We’ve got to get rid of the immigration issue altogether,” Hannity said.

This kind of talk was unthinkable before Tuesday. But even if prominent Republicans are now ready to junk their single-minded fixation on “amnesty” and line-up behind comprehensive reform, it doesn’t necessarily mean that reform will pass – or that the GOP’s Latino problem will go away.

Assuming the issue does come up in the next Congress, there will still be plenty of loud and influential nativist voices on the right fighting any deal and threatening to organize primary challenges against Republicans who don’t join them. This is what sunk the last push for reform, under George W. Bush back in 2006. Media personalities now play an outsize role in shaping the mood of the GOP base (and thus the GOP’s agenda and messaging), so it’s a hopeful sign that someone like Hannity is now changing his tune. If others like him do the same, it will bode well for a meaningful bipartisan deal in the near future. But the potential for primary-phobic Republican members to get cold feet will be a constant threat.

Even if Republicans do champion reform and even if it does become law, though, doesn’t necessarily mean the GOP’s demographic problem will be solved.

Certainly, there’s some reason for Republicans to be optimistic that the alienation of Latinos from their party isn’t permanent. After all, it was only eight years ago that Bush took 44 percent of the Latino vote. If the GOP, which took only 31 percent of the Latino vote in 2008 and 27 percent this year, could get back to that Bush level, it would be fine in the future. It could be that finally resolving the legal status of the undocumented and expunging words like “amnesty” and “illegals” from their rhetorical palette will allow Republicans to make a winning pitch to Latinos on economic and cultural issues.

But the problem may go deeper. The GOP’s opposition to reform since Bush’s plan blew up has been frenzied and unyielding, with very few dissenting voices speaking out. The lack of trust and ill will this has generated among Latinos is considerable and probably won’t go away overnight. There’s a broader issue too of the GOP’s tone toward Latinos and other minority groups. Sonia Sotomayor’s Supreme Court nomination had nothing to do with the immigration issue, but the right opposed her bitterly, with Rush Linbaugh likening her to David Duke and calling her a “reverse racist” and a “hack.” 31 Republican senators out of 40 voted against confirmation. Far too often in the Obama era, this ugly tone has defined the GOP’s posture toward Latinos and other demographic groups at the heart of Obama’s “coalition of the ascendant.”

To win over Latinos in large numbers, it will probably take more for Republicans than simply signing off on comprehensive immigration reform (though that’s surely a necessary first step). It will require the party to actively court Latinos, to speak specifically to issues of concern to Latino voters, and to drop the rhetoric of white guy resentment once and for all.

For the sake of their survival, Republicans can’t allow a repeat of what happened with their relationship with black voters. Hard as it is to believe now, the GOP was once the progressive party on race and the natural home for black voters. But that all changed in 1964, when a Democratic president, Lyndon Johnson, signed the Civil Rights Act and Republicans nominated a senator, Barry Goldwater, who had joined with southern Democrats in trying to filibuster it to death. That election pushed a huge number of white southerners into the Republican fold, and while the GOP never again fielded an anti-civil rights candidate, the party continued for decades to stoke the resentments of its growing white Southern base. The result: Since Goldwater, Democrats have carried at least 80 percent of the black vote – and often much more – in every national election.

For the first time in 2011, minority births outpaced white births. By the end of this decade, whites will no longer account for a majority of the population under 18, and by 2041 the entire country will be minority-majority. So if they don’t make serious inroads with Latinos, Republicans will become a permanent minority party.

Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>