Politics & Policy

Why Romney Lost the Hispanic Vote

Republicans didn’t overcome the negative impression given by the primaries.

“Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: It Might Have Been.” — John Greenleaf Whittier

The pundit world will now eviscerate Mitt Romney, a man who, had he garnered just a few hundred thousand more votes in a few key districts, would have been hailed as a political genius. Instead, his every fault will be examined, his mistakes magnified, and his defeat decreed to be, in retrospect, inevitable.

Romney was not my first choice. I had been hoping for Indiana governor Mitch Daniels. But in the course of the long campaign, I had come to admire Romney immensely. Everyone who is now picking over his bones should remember that he was a conquering hero after the first debate. I grieve mostly for the country in the wake of Obama’s victory, but also a bit for Romney. He deserved to win. He would have been a good president. And this much is certain — the assassination of his character by the Obama machine was disgusting. Obama won ugly. We should never forget that. This too is likely: If Romney had won and Republicans had carried the Senate, the United States would be poised for an economic boom, a return to world leadership, a workable reform of health care, and a mature and responsible resolution of the entitlement crisis.

Such an economic success story would have set the stage for further Republican victories. Or would it?

One of the mysteries of this election — and one factor that misled me into predicting a Romney victory — is that voters said they regarded the economy as the most important issue in the race, and majorities reported that Romney would be better than Obama for the economy.

Some on the right are succumbing to the temptation to explain the Obama win as the “tipping point” — the takers outvoting the makers. Those who get government handouts, the suspicion goes, are content to tax the other 50 percent, happily collecting benefits rather than working for a living. I think this is wrong. Government dependency is a problem, yes, and Obama has made it much worse. But the notion that 47 percent of Americans choose to be idle moochers is misleading. Among the 47 percent are the retired (who voted in large numbers for Romney), parents who get a child deduction, and the unemployed who cannot find jobs in the Obama economy. Besides, as Ramesh Ponnuru has observed, in 2010, many of these voters shifted toward the Republicans, even as dependency increased.

No, the margin of victory for Obama came from Hispanic voters. “A big reason I will win a second term,” he told the Des Moines Register just before the election, “is because the Republican nominee and Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community.”

It gives me no pleasure to say that I’ve been warning of this for many years. Conservatives and Republicans simply must address Hispanic voters in terms that do not sound hostile. As Senator Marco Rubio put it to Juan Williams, “It’s very hard to make the economic argument to people who think you want to deport their grandmother.”

Hispanics constituted 10 percent of the electorate this year. If Mitt Romney had received the 44 percent of the Hispanic vote that George W. Bush obtained in 2004, he’d be moving into the White House in January. In key swing states, the Hispanic vote was crushing: 58 to 40 in Florida, 87 to 10 in Colorado, 80 to 17 in Nevada, and 66 to 31 in Virginia. Republicans were clobbered among Hispanics because the Republican primary electorate rewarded candidates for bellicosity regarding illegal immigration. In the midst of discussions of border guards, moats, and “self-deportation” during the Republican primaries, there was precious little appreciation for the contributions of legal Hispanics to American life and culture. The Republican convention showcased some of the talented Hispanics in the party, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the harsh negativity of the primary season. Even Asian voters appear to have been alienated by the Republican tone, giving Obama 73 percent of their votes.

The irony, for those Republican primary voters who demanded tough stances on immigration, is that this is one problem Obama has inadvertently solved. The economy is so lousy under his stewardship that immigrants have stopped coming.

Obama failed at everything except pandering to his base. Republicans failed at only one thing — but it was devastating.

Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2012 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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