While most Hispanics belong to blue-collar families of modest means (less than a third of non-Cuban Hispanics have family incomes over $50,000 per year) and are thus economic liberals, giving Democrats the advantage, there is also a touch of social conservatism in the community. Hispanics have consistently voted against abortion and gay marriage referendums in the West.
The full history of the Hispanic influence on American politics probably can’t be written until mass levels of immigration are cut off. Until that happens, we’ll continue to see two distinct trends: second- and third-generation American Hispanics steadily moving up into the middle class, and inner-city barrios being replenished with poorer immigrants.
That middle-class Hispanics — who have never voted less than 50 percent Democrat in national elections — are slowly replacing Sun Belt whites, who voted 2-1 for Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes, is bad news for Republicans, who have had a fair amount of that lately. The increasing Hispanic turnout may have already “realigned” New Mexico and Nevada toward the Democrats. But if future GOP nominees can’t match George W. Bush’s Hispanic numbers, then the Republican grip on Florida, Arizona, Colorado, and even Texas eventually will be lost. Adding those four Sun Belt states to the Democratic column would not only guarantee a presidential victory, but create a long-term Democratic majority. The stakes couldn’t be higher for Republicans.
But the good news for Republicans is that this is a potentially solvable problem, as they do have some up-and-coming young Hispanic politicians, including Florida Senator Marco Rubio, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, and George P. Bush (Jeb’s son, whose mother is from Mexico), who just opened a committee to raise money for a political career in Texas. (Texas Senator-elect Ted Cruz is not eligible for national office because he was born in Canada).
If Mr. Rubio lives up to his billing and is seen as qualified for national office, he would not only help win Florida, but add 1 to 2 million Hispanic votes nationally to the Republican ticket. Delivering the biggest battleground state while also adding 1-2% of the national vote for the next Republican nominee would be dynamite. It would also make Rubio the most valuable vice presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson helped JFK win Texas and much of the South in 1960, thus providing the Democratic margin of victory in the Electoral College. Of course, he may very well become the next GOP presidential nominee.
After seeing the record Hispanic vote on November 6, Sean Hannity of Fox News, who had previously opposed an immigration amnesty, said that his views on the subject “were now evolving” and GOP House Speaker John Boehner also said that he would be glad to negotiate a compromise bill with Democrats. (One is reminded of Senator Everett Dirksen’s wisecrack: “When I feel the heat, I see the light!” And another one: “I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times.”)
The willingness of Republican leaders to reconsider immigration reform is a strong sign they recognize the new demographic and political realities of 21st century America. The Democrats were already on board, so Hispanics have apparently bent both parties to their will. It speaks volumes, telling us that Hispanics are: a) here to stay, and b) will be major players in upcoming political cycles.