This year, Mitt Romney doubled down on voting against the DREAM Act, supporting SB 1070 before the Supreme Court took out its most overreaching provisions and outlined a "self-deportation" policy whose goal was to make undocumented immigrants so miserable they'd go back to the poverty and violence they often fled; it's no surprise that Latinos swept the president into another term in office, giving him between 70 and 75 percent of their vote according to reliable estimates, picking up more Latinos than anyone since Bill Clinton. Despite the fact that Romney picked up the white vote with a very comfortable margin, he still lost. The implications of this election, both for the Latino community in specific and the nation in general, run deep in both the short and long term.
A look at margins of victory across the individual states paints a vivid portrait of a country that has changed enough demographically that the Republicans will no longer be able to fight popular policies that benefit the Latino community like the DREAM Act. In Colorado, a key swing state where Latinos are roughly 20 percent of the population of the state, polls place Obamas Latino vote at 74 percent. Obama won the very red state of New Mexico, where he captured 77 percent of the Latino vote in a state that is nearly half Latino. Obama took similar margins in Nevada (80 percent) and Ohio (82 percent), both crucial swing states.
The presidential election didn't happen in a vacuum, and down-ticket the effects were felt as well: Joe Arpaio, THE anti-Latino in the Republican Party, barely eked out a victory after winning elections handedly for years. After a hard-fought ballot campaign, the DREAMers and their supporters were able to get in-state tuition in Maryland; anti-Latino candidates like Brian Bilbray wrote concession speeches last night; Scott Brown (demonstrated against and confronted by DREAMer demonstrators) narrowly lost an election and undeniably lost Latino votes on his stance against the DREAM Act; Jeff Flake won re-election in Arizona by less than 80,000 votes, and these are all just a few of many snapshots that show the increasing power of the Latino vote.
What can we expect to unfold in the short term? Since Latinos swept the president to victory in swing states, it should easily follow that they will get a place closer to, if not at the front of, the negotiations table. The DREAM Act, which very narrowly missed passage in 2010, will likely be approved by this new Congress that Latinos helped to vote in. Republican elected officials will back away from rhetoric supporting SB 1070, as well as men like Kris Kobach, who built his career in the national spotlight on the fact that he helped to write it -- "self-deportation" will never be uttered by any Republican that hasn't gone completely rogue on their party.
In the long term, the implications of this election are becoming clearer and clearer as all the numbers come in: Mitt Romney won 59 percent of the white vote, which is more than any candidate who has lost ever has before. The signal that this sends to elected officials is unambiguous: you can't expect old, angry white guys (i.e. the Tea Party's constituency) to carry you to victory anymore. Romney is, quite possibly, the whitest candidate we've had in some time, and hearing him talk about his family owning slaves being an advantage for him as he works with the African-American community or uncomfortably sing "who let the dogs out" to some black children helps to highlight this. He then chose a vice presidential candidate to try to bring out the white base voters, doubling down on the white guy vote, and still it wasn't enough.
Romney's final surge was when he began moving to the middle during the first debate, and elaborated on a more empathetic policy for DREAMers. Although Sandy completely undercut his momentum and gave Obama his own surge, Romney was largely able to hold on to some of the popularity he won by sounding far more reasonable, and this was still a tightly-contested election.
When contrasting his moderate stances with his earlier rhetoric during the primaries when he had to win over the irrational Tea Party base, one can't help but speculate that, had he been moderate the entire time, we would have a new president on Inauguration Day. The real problem for Republicans, especially exemplified in losing Tea Party poster child/nutjob Alan West, is simple: the Republican Party has allowed the Tea Party base to have a heavy hand in writing their agenda, and nobody outside of the Tea Party likes the Tea Party. Although the Republicans have often tried to say that they've just been having messaging problems lately, it's the message itself, not the gift-wrap, that was staunchly rejected by voters last night.
The overall tone of the Latino vote was summed up by Michael Steele on Morning Joe: When asked what he learned from the election, he said "Every month 50,000 Hispanics turn 18 years old, what is the Republican Party going to do about that?"