Ted Cruz, while new in the Senate, has been making headlines. Cruz has done this, quite frankly, by being the latest Tea Party clown to use inflammatory, Limbaugh-esque rhetoric and McCarthy-esque accusations with little to no proof on camera. Cruz is doing all of this in front of a state, Texas, that is turning purple from red and doing so because of Latinos. As the Republicans wander through the wilderness after a defeat so bad it left them questioning their values and led to an "autopsy report," those with a sharper learning curve like Marco Rubio and Rand Paul are leading the party on immigration. In doing so, they are taking the reigns.
Ted Cruz is not.
Sen. Cruz, while not having much of a record as a senator, has accumulated a bit of a record on immigration. Cruz is for more "boots on the ground" to make a militarized border with tougher enforcement; a border fence; does not support a pathway toward citizenship for undocumented immigrants; and signed on as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee to a recent letter saying that immigration reform is moving too fast and must be slowed down.
That is just the way it works when you let anti-immigration people like Ted Cruz get ahead of the party and start leading when he's still tripping over his senatorial training wheels; he's racking up a YouTube highlight reel that may quickly stunt his political growth and restrict him to less-reasonable Tea Party voters for his entire career. The Tea Party is currently so disorganized and weakened that their caucus no longer exists.
George Bush managed to get 44 percent of the Latino vote. Following Cruz' lead, however, the Republicans aren't setting themselves up any better for midterms than they were for the 2012 election. Obama's recent victory, where he won 71 percent of the Latino vote, had even Sean Hannity talking about changing the rhetoric on immigration the day after. This is a victory that speaks volumes about the Latino vote, and was reflected in the recent analysis (aka "autopsy") issued by Reince Priebus on why the GOP lost the 2012 election.
Although Cruz has positioned himself against immigration, there are Republicans with different attitudes: "At a young age, I came to understand that it makes a difference whether you are a documented immigrant or an undocumented immigrant, that the existence was not easy for the undocumented... " said Rand Paul at CPAC, bringing with his quote a fresh, empathetic perspective for conservatives and libertarians. He then went on to elaborate why he is in favor of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, after recounting stories of undocumented coworkers being mistreated. This is in addition to things like giving a speech at the breakfast meeting of the 2013 Annual Legislative Summit of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in D.C.
Far from condemning Rand Paul for his more moderate stance, the Tea Party has embraced Sen. Paul's views. For the Tea Party, this represents a large shift in what was thought of as their political orthodox. The older orthodox can easily be seen in the anti-Latino rhetoric Romney used in his outreach to white voters. This is the same Tea Party whose votes Cruz has been so heavily banking on, clearly ready to move past their sticking point with Latinos on immigration.
Since the Tea Party shows no signs of turning on Sen. Paul because of his immigration views, it leads one to wonder why Cruz would bother to take positions so unpopular with Latinos? Afterall, he's in a border state that is heavily Latino, his party took a horrible spanking last election at the hands of Latinos and he's half Cuban himself: all that would normally imply that he would be more receptive to the Latino perspective.
Texas is near the top of a list of potential new swing states, joining other Latino-heavy border states like New Mexico that have recently flipped: Republicans won 4 Presidential elections straight from '76 to '88 in that state. They have since only won one (largely due to George Bush's successful Latino outreach) of 6 as the Republicans' rhetoric did not change to fit the demographics. Arizona, while not flipped yet either, nearly got rid of anti-immigration figure Joe Arpaio, giving him a harder re-election in 2012 than he's faced in over a decade. These are just a few of many signs that the "Yo Decido" cover of TIME Magazine was prophetic as Latinos now form one of the largest voter groups in today's coalition politics.
With a Latino demographic that grows every year as the white demographics that Republicans continue to rely on shrink, Republicans in Texas will need to be on the front lines of the immigration debate if they want to remain relevant to their own constituency nationally or state-wide. Considering the 30 percent Hispanic eligible voter population, 12 percent African-American eligible population, progressive whites in large cities, LGBT and youth voters, there's a large enough coalition waiting that, with the right candidate and campaign, Democrats could take a majority and turn Texas blue.
This may be wishful thinking, however, there will undeniably be careers made and broken in Texas over immigration. For better or worse, Ted Cruz will be setting the tone of immigration politics as a major national Republican figure, grabbing headlines alongside Sen. Rubio and Sen. Paul. Come election day, those headlines will be hung around the neck of fellow Republicans like a giant, squawking albatross.
Correction: The original version of this post mistakenly attributed a quote calling immigration reform a "suicide mission" to Senator Ted Cruz. The comment was made by Donald Trump.
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