Saturday, July 13, 2013

Demographic Tonic

The current stalemate on immigration reform—which is not really stalemate at all, but the death of immigration reform at the hands of the House Republicans—has everyone in Pundit Universe wondering exactly what electoral strategy lies behind this tactic for a Republican Party desperate to expand its appeal beyond pool & patio white males. A lot of Republicans took to the airwaves after last year's election to declare that immigration reform was now a priority. Lindsey Graham explained to Fox News that having Hispanic support for the GOP drop from 44% to 27% in 2012 was a catastrophe:
This is an odd formula for the party to adopt, the fastest growing demographic in the country, and we're losing votes every election. It's one thing to shoot yourself in the foot, just don't reload the gun. I intend not to reload this gun when it comes to Hispanics. I intend to tear this wall down and pass an immigration reform bill that's an American solution to an American problem.
But hope faded in the lower house. House Republicans and their allies in the press have expressed the will of the right-wing hive mind and forcefully demanded that the immigration bill die as quickly as possible. This, you might imagine (as Lindsey Graham apparently does), would jeopardize their electoral chances in the next election. The lifeline some Republicans have been clinging to is the analysis of Sean Trende of (right leaning) Real Clear Politics, who explains that a sizable bloc of white voters mysteriously went missing in 2012, but they're bound to turn up in the upcoming elections. The Economist thinks his case is "persuasively argued." Paul Krugman thinks the whole idea is bunk, since Sean Trende's mythical Republican coalition would cohere around the ideological center of libertarian populism—but because "downscale blue collar white voters" would despise libertarian policies like cutting unemployment benefits. Maybe... but Krugman's is not a very convincing argument considering how often middle and working class whites vote against their economic interests anyway. Downscale white voters attracted to libertarian rhetoric usually have race and racism on the mind, consciously or subconsciously. Besides, attracting those votes could come at a cost. Mike Konczal at Wonkblog writes:
Non-voting whites might also be staying home because they are alienated in a world of increasing cultural liberalism, of gay marriage and globalization, one that doesn’t privilege their maleness and whiteness enough. A campaign that seriously addresses white working-class resentment might lose other voters (white and non-white) faster than they are gained.
Finally, Ruy Teixeira and Alan Abramowitz offer the best counter argument that Trende's statistical model is terribly flawed.

What, then, do we make of the behavior of the House Republicans? I can think of only three explanations.
  1. They believe the white Reagan coalition can somehow be reassembled, and pieces like Trende's article, however error laden, feed that belief.
  2. They are so insulated by safe gerrymandered redistricting that losing more Hispanic support, or conversely seeing little opportunity to gain Hispanic support even with a yea vote, matters not at all to them. Shorter take: Who needs a Reagan coalition nationally when the Strom Thurmond coalition exists in your district?
  3. Ideological dogma has turned their brains to mush, so they blindly follow their knee-jerk instinct to crush reform. Ironically it is reform that would cut the deficit, raise levels of capital investment, raise the GDP, boost productivity, and lead to higher interest rates, all of which are things conservatives should want. But these guys aren't conservatives, they are House Republicans.

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