In the days following this year's general election, the constant in almost all of the post-election analysis has been the Latino vote and how strongly Latinos turned out for Democrats and President Obama. The other side of that analysis has been that Republicans need to connect with Latinos quickly or they risk losing the Latino vote forever.
The reality is starting to set in with conservative pundits that Republicans have to finally get serious about comprehensive immigration reform. While taking an active role in immigration reform may help Republicans bridge the Latino gap, Charles Krauthammer takes it a step further in his column "The Way Forward." Mr. Krauthammer suggests that reversing this Latino voting trend shouldn't be that difficult because Latinos "should be a natural Republican constituency."
I would be curious to know what data Mr. Krauthammer is using to come to the conclusion that Latinos "should be a natural Republican constituency." If the assumption is that Latinos vote for Democrats only because of the issue of illegal immigration, one would be hard-pressed to find facts to support that.
The better question is, when did a majority of this "natural constituency" vote for Republicans in recent history? In 2000 and 2004, the GOP had a presidential nominee who was in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. Both times, George W. Bush lost the Latino vote. In 2000, Vice President Al Gore won 62 percent of the Latino vote. The Republican high water mark came in 2004, when Senator John Kerry won Latino support by 9 percent over President Bush. Signs of life, but by no means a "natural Republican constituency."
Immigration reform and the Republicans' hostile "self-deportation" policy surely helped President Obama win 71 percent of the Latino vote. However, President Clinton received a higher percentage of the Latino vote in a Presidential election -- 72 percent in 1996.
Many Republicans, like Mr. Krauthammer, might believe that President Obama and Democrats win this high a percentage of Latino support because of their policies on immigration. This would be ignoring the fact that, while immigration reform is important to Latinos, it's not the only issue for us. Latinos are concerned about the same pocketbook issues that matter to most middle class Americans -- creating good-paying jobs in this country, making sure our children get a quality education and ensuring that our families have access to affordable and quality healthcare.
Don't take my word for it. Polls taken right before Tuesday's election prove it. On deficit reduction, a plurality of Latinos (42 percent) believe in a balanced approach that includes tax increases and spending cuts , with another 35 percent of Latinos supporting raising revenue by asking the wealthiest in our country to pay more in taxes. On healthcare, 61 percent of Latinos say the Affordable Care Act should remain the law of the land, because they believe that the federal government has a role to play in guaranteeing that people have health care.
As a Latina, and a member of the House Judiciary Committee, comprehensive immigration reform is important to me. As a nation, we are long overdue for a rational discussion with regards to our immigration policies. I think most Americans would agree that we need sensible solutions that fix our immigration system and deal humanely with aspiring citizens currently in our country. At the same time, these solutions must increase the security of our borders.
I commend Mr. Krauthammer for addressing the need for comprehensive immigration reform. However, if Mr. Krauthammer believes that all it will take for Republicans to win the Latino vote is to fix the GOP's offensive rhetoric on immigration, he truly doesn't understand that Latinos are not one-issue voters. "The Way Forward" might take a lot longer for Republicans to navigate if they operate under the same assumption.