House GOP's Hispanic neglect: How Boehner can keep majority with no Latino support

An interesting analysis shows the disturbing non-relationship between Hispanic voters and the House GOP

By Jim Newell
Published October 22, 2014 5:28PM (EDT)
John Boehner                                      (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
John Boehner (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

The New York Times's Nate Cohn has put together the clearest illustration to explain the GOP's seemingly quixotic hostility toward the nation's fastest growing demographic. It shows that for House Republicans, this isn't quixotic at all: Apathy, or even hostility, to the interests of Hispanics is crucial to preserving their seats. It's just that higher aspiration -- winning the White House -- where the problems come into place.

Cohn ran an analysis of what things would look like if zero Hispanics voted for Republican candidates this year. They'd lose some seats ... but not very many, and not enough to lose their majority:

Republicans would probably hold the House — and still have a real chance to retake the Senate — if they lost every single Hispanic voter in the country, according to an analysis by The Upshot.

Such a thing would never happen, of course, but the fact that the Republicans may not need a single Hispanic vote in 2014 says a good deal about American politics today.

The fact that the Republican House majority does not depend on Hispanic voters helps explain why immigration reform has not become law, even though national Republican strategists believe the party needs additional support among Hispanic voters to compete in presidential elections. It’s true that Republicans would stand little, if any, chance of winning the presidency in 2016 if they lost every Hispanic voter. If anything, the Republicans probably need to make gains among Hispanic voters to compete in states like Florida and Nevada.

Even in the statewide contests for Senate, the zero-Hispanic-voter hypothetical would still leave Republicans with a 31 percent chance of capturing control of the chamber this November. This year's Senate battlegrounds don't include many states with significant Hispanic populations. Which explains why President Obama delayed his executive action on deportations until the elections, or why the likes of Scott Brown is railing against The Amnesty in New Hampshire, located approximately a Europe's-width from the Southern border. In another cycle, when seats in Nevada, Florida, Arizona, New Mexico and elsewhere are up for grabs, maybe the GOP's Senate candidates will tone it down a little.

But Cohn's analysis shows, in fairly dramatic terms, that House candidates will never tone it down. It would be politically stupid for them to tone it down. If they keep the anti-amnesty, anti-immigration reform rhetoric cranked into the red, a few members might run into difficulty, but not nearly enough to cost the GOP its House majority. Meanwhile, if House Republicans made moves that could help their party with a presidential election or a different Senate map -- taking on comprehensive immigration reform, with a path to citizenship, that granted their presidential candidates more flexibility to speak with nuance on the issue -- it would only invite problems. There would be countless primary challenges from the right to all candidates who lend their support.

This is the way it is for the indefinite future: a House Republican majority, no comprehensive immigration reform, and a Democratic president. (Unless a Republican presidential candidate can win like a million percent of white voters. But a lot of white people like Hillary Clinton, so ...??)

It's not breaking news that the interests of Hispanic voters aren't high on House Republicans' priority list. Now we know that they mean nothing. The House Republican majority exists in direct opposition to these interests, and there is no need for them to change their behavior. Unless they're interested in having a member of their own party in the White House. And would that even be all it's cracked up to be? Good God, imagine if they were faced with the prospect of having one of their dumb bills signed into law. Seems much easier to simply maintain easy control of their own seats and holler at whatever evil Democrat's sitting in the Oval Office, with the real power.

Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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