Rude awakening for the GOP: Alienating Latinos spells big trouble for the party

By The Miami Herald Editorial

Nearly a half-century after the national political parties began to pay lip service to the importance of Hispanics, it’s safe to say the long-heralded Latino vote has finally arrived. Hispanic Americans played a significant, possibly decisive, role in the outcome of the 2012 presidential election.

The Republican Party can’t afford to ignore that political reality if it wants to remain a viable national contender.

Both the outcome of the 2012 vote and, what’s worse for the GOP, the long-term trend do not augur well for a party that needs broad-based support to win elections. Mitt Romney lost the vote by 71 percent to 27 percent, a margin of 44 percent.

For that, he can blame both himself and his party. Mr. Romney’s effort to woo primary voters hostile to the DREAM Act and to the very idea of sensible immigration reform sealed his fate with Latino voters.

The Obama campaign made sure Hispanics heard about it in the general election, but they did not put words into the candidate’s mouth. He did that himself. No amount of spin or attempts to explain could overcome the impact of the “self-deportation” concept expressed by the candidate.

In key states, from Colorado to Virginia, Hispanics helped swing the vote to Mr. Obama to boost the incumbent president toward an Electoral College victory. By some measures, Democratic candidates have enjoyed margins of at least 20 percent or more over their Republican opponents since 1980.

For Republicans, this election should serve as a rude awakening. The party needs to reach out to Hispanics now, before their affiliation with the Democratic Party becomes part of their political DNA. A failure to act would turn Latino voters from now on into a sure thing for Democrats, just as certainly as the GOP’s Southern Strategy in the 1970s permanently alienated black voters.

The face of America is changing in the same way and at the same pace that the microcosm of South Florida changed over the past few decades. This change toward greater diversity and social openness, less inclined to heed nostalgic appeals and eager to make a difference and climb the ladder of success, has been good for Miami and our region, and it will be good for the country.

Locally, Mr. Obama made major inroads into the Cuban-American vote. There’s a dispute over whether he carried a majority of the votes or merely came close, but the reality is that old arguments and political identifications made less of a difference. For Cuban Americans, as for other Hispanics, the melting pot works — they’re worried first and foremost about the U.S. economy and job creation, just as the majority of Americans are.

But Hispanics also care about immigration reform. The GOP’s best hope is to listen to one of their party’s brightest young leaders, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Miami, who said after the election that his party needs to work harder to communicate Republican ideas to Hispanics. The GOP should take its cue from Sen. Rubio.

And maybe some of them are. Rep. John Boehner, the majority leader in the House, said after the election that he was “confident” Congress and the White House could come up with a comprehensive immigration solution.

Amazing. Maybe elections do indeed have consequences. Mr. Boehner appears to have read the handwriting on the wall, albeit belatedly. If the rest of his party fails to do likewise, they’ll be the ones to drive the GOP over its own political cliff.

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