Another Honorable Error: Rep. Lamar Smith On Hispanics And The GOP

As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, where most immigration legislation originates, Congressman Lamar Smith is probably the most influential Congressman who has been a relatively consistent supporter of patriotic immigration reform.

But he recently raised the eyebrows of many patriotic immigration reformers when he introduced a watered-down E-Verify bill, written with the Chamber of Commerce, which would have the effect of pre-empting state immigration laws.

None of Smith`s critics are doubting his integrity, however. As SB 1070 author Russell Pearce wrote in his Politico op-ed opposing Smith:

“Now, I want to be clear that I don`t think Smith is acting in bad faith in introducing this bill. He sees that there are seven to eight million illegal immigrants taking U.S. jobs. He probably believes that he needs to compromise with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to get something passed.” [Ariz. law is best on immigration, Politico, June 17, 2011]

I believe Smith has similar honorable tactical motivations for his recent Politico op-ed arguing the GOP need not worry about the Hispanicization of the country. [Hispanics like law and order too, June 2, 2011].

The Republican Establishment is no doubt insisting that Smith back off of immigration control because of the alleged need to win Hispanic voters No doubt Smith believes the best response is to claim, not entirely fallaciously, that Hispanics support immigration control too.

Unfortunately, even the most unsophisticated Open Borders advocate can tear Smith`s argument apart. It can be caricatured like this:

In 2006, 93% of self-identified Democrats voted for Democratic candidates in the Congressional Elections. In 2010, that number fell to 91%. With that improvement, the Republican Party doesn`t need to worry if the number of self-identified Democrats goes up!

While not so patently absurd, Smith`s logic about Hispanics is basically the same.

After citing the statistics about the skyrocketing Hispanic population in the country, Smith notes “some pundits and political operatives—mostly Democrats—have already announced the demise of the Republican Party.” But have no fear, says Smith. The fact that the GOP share of the Hispanic vote in the 2010 Congressional elections increased from 30% to 38% means that the GOP is doing just fine!

Of course, Smith ignores the obvious arithmetical reality: you need over 50% of the vote to win any election. Even if Hispanics voted 49% Republican, increasing their relative share of the electorate would still be a net gain for the Democrats.

And there is no reason to expect Hispanic support for Republicans to go up in the future. Both Cubans and, to some extent, long established Mexican families living in Texas have tended to vote Republican. But their share of the Hispanic population is declining as more and more unskilled Hispanic legal and illegal immigrants flood across the border.

The real but unmentionable story of the 2010 election: whites. Much more than in the past, they voted as a bloc, with 60% choosing the GOP compared to a paltry 51% in 2006.

Despite Asians, Hispanics, and blacks all voting overwhelmingly for the Democrats, the fact whites still made up 77% of the electorate gave the GOP a 14-point margin of victory.

P

eter Brimelow and Ed Rubenstein, in their 1997 National Review cover story Electing a New People, looked at how Republicans would fare in future elections if racial voting patterns stayed constant, and immigration continued to make the country less white.

They used George H.W. Bush`s 1988 victory over Michael Dukakis as the baseline. That was a strong Republican year, but even so Brimelow and Rubenstein projected that by 2008, because of the immigration-induced ethnic shift, Republicans would be losing Presidential elections.

Of course, that was a static analysis. There was also a dynamic aspect: the GOP could increase its share of the white vote. And this is what it did in 2010. But it is hard to imagine the GOP doing much better than it did last year.

Bottom line: even if the GOP continues to achieve landslide elections among whites, it will find it increasingly difficult to win overall—if demographic a.k.a. immigration trends continue.

Another way of looking at this phenomenon: because whites are on average older, more civic-minded, and more likely to be American citizens than other groups living in America, they currently make up 77% of the electorate, despite making up only 65% of the population. Hispanics, in contrast, were only 8% of the electorate, despite making up 16% of the population.

I calculated what the results of the 2010 election would have been if the electorate matched the population:

2010 House Exit Polls (CNN)

Election Results if Electorate Matched latest Census Estimates of Population. 

 
(Note: Numbers do not always add up to 100% due to rounding and voters who voted for Third Parties/did not respond to exit pollsters)

In other words, just by assuming that the current population will be ultimately reflected in the electorate, 2010`s 14-point Republican margin is virtually wiped out (49.5%-49.6%)

Lamar Smith also sought to counter the contention that “the GOP needs to embrace amnesty for illegal immigrants to attract Hispanic voters.” In this respect, he is relatively solid ground. However, his analysis is still shaky.

Smith points to a Zogby Poll commissioned by the Center for Immigration Studies that found that 82% of Hispanics supported “strongly or somewhat support reducing the illegal immigrant population over time by enforcing existing immigration laws, such as requiring employers to verify the legal status of workers and increasing border enforcement.”

But this is less significant than it appears. Most amnesty advocates claim to support “comprehensive immigration reform”—meaning amnesty with “enforcement”. And sure enough the poll also found Hispanics supporting amnesty by a ten point margin—a fact that Smith omitted in his column.

Moreover, although Zogby is well-respected pollster and CIS`s wording seems fairer than most immigration polls, the results of this are so atypical from other polls that it is hard to take this as representative of Hispanic`s views on immigration.

The most compelling concrete showing of Hispanics supporting some sort of immigration control: the 2004 exit polls that found that 47% of Arizona`s Hispanics voted for Prop 200, which denied some social services to illegal aliens and cracked down on immigrant voting fraud. But note that this was still a minority position within the Hispanic bloc—and significantly lower than white support.

One thing seems to be very consistent in all polls: the issue of Arizona`s SB 1070. This has become the litmus test of whether or not you support immigration control. Polls consistently show that 65-75% of whites support the law, while 60-80% of Hispanics oppose the law.

However, it is worth noting that Gallup found that Republican support for SB 1070 had absolutely no effect on Hispanic`s views on the GOP—which were negative by a 2-1 margin before and after the controversy. And despite the heated immigration debate prior to the 2010 elections, The Pew Hispanic Center found immigration only fifth out of seven issues that Hispanics planned to vote on during the elections.

Smith`s final reason for Republican optimism with Hispanics: the election of “pro-enforcement” Hispanics in 2010. He cites senator Marco Rubio (FL); governors Brian Sandoval (NV) and Susana Martinez (NM); and congressmen Bill Flores (TX), Francisco Canseco (TX), Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA), Raul Labrador (ID), and David Rivera (FL).

These Republicans are indeed relatively more restrictionist than Mel Martinez and Alberto Gonzales. But none are as strong on immigration as Smith himself. Not one of the congressmen joined the Immigration Reform Caucus.

With the exclusion of Sandoval and Rubio, not one of these GOP Hispanics supports SB 1070. And the latter`s support very dubious.

Of these newly elected Hispanic Republicans, only the Rubio and Sandoval races had exit polls. In Rubio`s race, both Hispanics and whites gave him 55% of the vote, but heavily Cuban Florida is extremely atypical of Hispanic voters. Brian Sandoval got only 33%, but won comfortably with 62% of the white vote. This was not significantly different from the 30% received by non-Hispanic, and even more vocally anti-illegal immigration, Sharron Angle.

The obvious takeaway from all this: a majority of Hispanics oppose the Republican Party and they also oppose patriotic immigration reform. However, they oppose the GOP regardless of what it does on immigration.

From a purely electoral perspective, therefore, the GOP should support immigration control—because 

  • It will keep a solidly Republican voting bloc (whites) a higher percentage of the electorate, and a solidly Democratic bloc (Hispanics) at a lower percentage
  • A larger percentage of white (and for that matter black) voters support immigration control than support the GOP—meaning the GOP could increase its share of these blocs` vote;
  • It will have virtually no effect on Hispanic support of the GOP—meaning that there is no downside for the former two advantages.

Bottom line: Immigration patriots must crush the Chamber of Commerce—not compromise with it.

And they must (and can) stop cold the immigration-induced Hispanicization of America—rather than pretend that the change will be inconsequential.

Ellison Lodge (email him) works on Capitol Hill.