Why Rubio, Haley, Jindal et al can't rescue the Republican party

Barack Obama's reelection has birthed a new magic wand: "Demographics." It's now short-hand for the winning Democratic coalition of LGBT, brown and female voters, and therefore for all that's wrong with the Grand Old Party.

"[The GOP] looks and acts too white and is not sufficiently open, sensitive and welcoming to minorities," Republican pollster Whit Ayres tells the Wall Street Journal.

This surely won't be hard for the party of George Bush, who won reelection with TK percent of the Latino vote. A party whose national convention featured a star line-up of immigrant leaders such as Marc Rubio, Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley.

No wonder old-guard christian conservatives like Ralph Reed sound a wee bit complacent. According to the Journal, Reed believes that "the election results underscore the need not for the party to be less conservative, but to find a way to sell its conservative message to a broader, more ethnically diverse audience."

"Defeat can be a very clarifying moment," he says, "We need to find a way to combine core principles with an outreach strategy that is more welcome to voters who haven't always been reached out to."

With the exception of Rubio — who has the benefit of representing a Cuban-dominated constituency — both Haley (L) and Jindal (R) closely hew to the anti-immigration line. Reuters

All that's required is a bit of brownwashing plus a quick immigration reform deal, and the Republicans are back in business just in time for 2016.


Except it won't work, and here's why.

Too brown, too rightwing

All this talk of the minority vote has surely added a spring to the step of GOP's biggest immigrant names. Florida Senator Marc Rubio is the new flavour of the month, touted as the man who can deliver an immigration deal for the Republicans. But Governors Jindal and Haley are not far behind. Jindal was already one of the names on Romney's list of potential running mates. And to make the likes of Reed happy, all three are true-blue conservatives.

And that's also their big problem. With the exception of Rubio — who has the benefit of representing a Cuban-dominated constituency — both Haley and Jindal closely hew to the anti-immigration line. In order to win in dyed-in-red states like Louisiana and South Carolina, both have been righter than thou — as in their white opponents. Haley recently beefed up one of the toughest anti-immigrant laws in the country to appease her constituency. A move criticised by immigrant groups as "racist," and is now being challenged by the ACLU in courts as a violation of basic civil rights.

This "proud daughter of Indian immigrants" won't be bringing in any Latino votes — or Indian ones for that matter.

Jindal too has signed off on his share of anti-immigrant legislation, and he combines that track record with a strident version of cultural conservatism, which includes opposition to abortion and homosexuality, and support for the teaching of "creationism" in schools. Jindal certainly won't be the candidate of choice for any of those much-needed moderates, leave alone women and gays.

All Republican candidates face the same problem. The base which votes in the primaries is far more conservative than the mainstream electorate. Keep the base happy, and you won't win the election, except in the most rightwing parts of the country. But that gap is all that bigger for immigrant candidates who have to compensate for their "foreign" or "not white" antecedents by skewing ever rightward. To be acceptable to the typical Republican voter — who is white, male and extremely conservative — they have to be true believers.

The very immigrants they are supposed to woo view them instead as white wine in brown bottles. They inspire not trust but greater suspicion as a form of perfunctory tokenism, as Firstpost noted of Romney's convention: "[W]hile a Jindal or a Haley or a Mia Love, the Haitian American Tea Partier from Utah, get their turn up on stage, the floor of the convention hall remains as resolutely red, blue and WHITE as ever. Haley and Jindal’s skin colour gives the GOP the tan it needs so it doesn’t look like a party of grumpy old white men."

Deep red and anti-immigrant

All the sweet talk of working out an immigration reform deal to woo the Latino vote ignores the fact that the base of the Republican party is resolutely anti-immigrant. Any talk of reform is perceived as an attempt to reward illegal aliens who really ought to be deported on sight.

Even a two-term president like George Bush was unable to pass his pet immigration bill, which was killed by his fellow Republicans in the Senate (though it did get then Senator Obama's vote). And as the Republican base has moved ever further to the right in the post-Bush era, moderate Republicans have followed suit in order to survive.

John McCain famously opposed his party on immigration, earning himself the label of "maverick," only to fully repudiate his position in recent years. In 2011, he tried to curry favour with his base by supporting entirely baseless allegations that illegal immigrants were responsible for wildfires in Arizona. At the time, Washington Post columnist Lee Hockstader observed, "Spooked by the ugly xenophobia rampant in the GOP’s base, McCain has joined his party’s mainstream in race-baiting, immigrant-hating rhetoric, much of it utterly unsubstantiated."

The reality is that it is near-impossible to support any form of immigration reform and get past a Republican primary in most parts of America. All talk of a deal over immigration will quickly dissipate at the prospect of facing an irate base come 2014.

That "foreign" president

The other big stumbling block in constituting a browner GOP coalition is the president himself. It's hard to claim that the GOP is pro-immigrant when its members have spent four years attacking the President of the United States for being "unAmerican."

The most visible critics of Obama on the Right are also virulently xenophobic. The Birthers, of course, are convinced that Obama is a foreign-born impostor who is illegally occupying the highest office in the land. But such ugly aspersions are hardly limited to fringe elements. Dinesh D'Souza's film on Obama was hugely popular with die-hard Republicans precisely because it confirmed their view of him as a foreigner, as the National Review approvingly noted, "That Third World perspective is Obama’s perspective, D’Souza demonstrates in this documentary, as in his book — and it is a perspective that is very foreign to that of most Americans, which may be why some believe that Obama was born elsewhere."

The "not American" aspersion surfaced repeatedly in the Romney campaign with some of the biggest Republican names joining the bandwagon. "[H]ere’s a man who doesn’t believe in a lot of those things that I think most Americans do believe in," declared Dick Cheney on Fox News.

Tea Party darling Sarah Palin slyly said, "I'm not calling anyone un-American, but the unintended consequences of [Obama's] actions, the results, are un-American."

Romney campaign's national co-chair John Sununu went one step further: "I wish this president would learn how to be an American." And as it turns out, it was a step too far. The results of playing the foreign card were plain to see in the polls, where everyone from Asians to Latinos to Blacks rallied around their president.

When it comes to the relationship between Republican party, immigrants and elections, GOP strategist Todd Harris summed it up best: “Too many Republicans treat harsh immigration rhetoric the way a smoker treats cigarettes. You know it’s going to kill you, but you do it anyway.”

As with any chain smoker, the odds of quitting are remote.

Updated Date: Nov 09, 2012 10:05 AM

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