For those Republicans worried about getting their party right with the new American electorate, I would be more than a bit concerned about the current attack on the Affordable Care Act. No group will benefit more from the ACA than Hispanic Americans. Estimates are that as many as 10 million Hispanics could gain health insurance in the coming years due to the new American health care system.
The Republican narrative to them this week, just days before the ACA kicks in? We are so committed to denying you health insurance that we are not just opposed to the ACA, but are willing to shut the government down, default on our obligations, and throw the US and global economy into chaos to make sure you don't get it.
The ferocity of the GOP's opposition to the ACA will be long remembered by tens of millions Americans whose families directly benefit from our modernized health care system. For Hispanics, the most underinsured portion of the U.S. population, the material gains in health and well-being from the ACA will be greater than for any other demographic group. Estimates suggest 10 million Hispanics will be eligible for health insurance in the coming years. To put that in perspective, these 10 million are about 20 percent of the total US Hispanic population, and millions more than the 7-9 million Hispanics who could gain legal status under the proposed immigration bill.
This suggests that as the act kicks in over the next few years, and millions of Hispanic families sign up for insurance, the damage to the GOP's brand for opposing this commonsense and powerful health care reform could equal or surpass the damage done by the GOP's opposition to immigration reform. The math is simple here. More Hispanics will directly benefit from the ACA than immigration reform. Most polls taken in recent years show that Hispanic voters care more about health care issues than immigration reform. Not a big surprise as the ACA will have a much bigger effect on the families of Hispanic citizens than immigration reform will. The potential for long term damage to the already damaged GOP brand with Hispanics here is huge, and lasting.
There is a precedent for House Republicans dramatically impacting the political alignment of the Hispanic electorate. In 2005 the House GOP passed the Sensenbrenner Bill, which called for the direct deportation of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. This harsh bill directly led to the rallies and demonstrations we saw in the spring of 2006, some of the largest civil rights demonstrations witnessed in U.S. history. Polling NDN conducted at the time found a huge shift in sentiment against the GOP because of their harsh anti-immigrant actions. In the fall elections, the Hispanic electorate broke dramatically against the GOP, going 70-30 for the Democrats even without the Democrats mounting any campaign at all at any level geared towards the Hispanic electorate.
George Bush's able campaigns began a re-alignment of the Hispanic electorate towards the GOP. The Republican share of the Hispanic vote jumped from 21 percent in 1996 to 35 percent in 2000 to 40 percent in 2004. These gains were essential in flipping states like FL, CO, AZ and NM carried by Bill Clinton in 1996, and arguably the single most important component of the only GOP Presidential wins since 1988. These gains were undone by the virulent anti-immigrant politics of 2005 and 2006, when the Hispanic electorate shifted to about a 70-30 structural advantage for the Democrats, a margin we first saw in 2006, and one replicated in each of the last three elections.
As I showed earlier, it is possible that the GOP's extraordinary opposition to the ACA could have an impact on the Hispanic electorate equal to or greater than this critical 2005-2006 moment when the GOP became defined as an anti-immigrant party. For the Republicans interested in the future of their party this should be very worrying.
Fortunately, the Republicans have two ways to mitigate -- not erase -- what is likely to be a catastrophic and searing event with Hispanics. First, drop the ACA hostage taking and work with the President and the Senate to pass a budget. Second, work with the Democrats to pass a good and reasonable immigration reform bill this fall. As I have argued elsewhere, the two parties are much closer to a deal than many realize. Given the enormity, and futility, of the mistake the House GOP is making on the ACA -- Sensenbrenner 2 let's call it -- the urgency for the Republicans to pass immigration reform has never been greater. And there will not be another chance after this fall. This is it. Or it may be the way of the Whigs for the party of Lincoln, undone by the very reactionary racial politics that were ironically the genesis of the founding of the GOP a long time ago.
This is an updated version of the original post.