Reeling in the wake of the great Republican walloping of 2012, in which Presidential nominee Mitt Romney received a paltry 27% of the Hispanic vote, GOP political consultants (as well as some pundits both within and outside of the Republican Party) have been quick to note that harsh anti-immigration rhetoric and positioning unquestionably played a role in the party’s electoral defeat. Conservative pundits, such as Sean Hannity and Charles Krauthammer, quickly abandoned longstanding obstinate hardline positions on immigration issues, instantaneously eviscerating years of faux-conservative orthodoxy in hopes of solving the GOP’s Hispanic vote problem. For pro-immigration reform Republicans, myself included, these words provide vindication, but little solace. Barack Obama is still President, after all; that’s hardly something to rejoice over for anyone who espouses conservative political positions.
Yet even as much of the GOP begins a much-needed re-examination of immigration issues, numerous immigration reform skeptics remain. Sean Trende, W. James Antle, and Ross Douthat repeated the pre-election conventional wisdom that immigration reform holds very little short term electoral benefit for the GOP, with Antle warning that the true price of immigration reform is the long-term demise of the GOP and conservative policy in the United States. These critics are wrong in their assessment that Latino voters don’t really care about immigration reform; while it is true that polls show Hispanics generally holding economic concerns in higher priority than immigration issues, the reality is that immigration is a threshold issue for these voters. To paraphrase Grover Norquist, “How can you get someone to vote for you if they think you’re going to deport their grandmother?”
At the same time, these critics are right to say that immigration reform, by itself, will not ingratiate Hispanic voters to the GOP. Even if it is a prerequisite for receiving support from this voting block, immigration reform is just one single issue among many, and “single-issue voters” do not a coalition make. So how else can the GOP bring Hispanic voters into its coalition?
Talk-radio host Hugh Hewitt recently authored a column in which he calls for school choice initiatives to be a part of immigration reform legislation. While I doubt that an immigration reform bill can feasibly pass with education issues added on, Hewitt is right to call attention to the school choice issue as a means to attract Hispanics to the GOP. Polls show that education is a top issue for Hispanic voters, and conservative positions on this issue – including vouchers and charter schools – receive strong support from these voters as well. Education reform is also increasingly a visible issue in black communities, and the GOP could potentially make inroads with black voters by highlighting this issue, as well. I’ve written before about how education reform is a racial justice issue; as black history month begins, and school choice week ends, I’d encourage anyone interested in this issue to view The Cartel, an excellent documentary that exposes the corruption of New Jersey’s public education system. You can find out more about the film here.
Of course, as with immigration reform, the best reason for Republicans to support school choice is because it is simply the right thing to do. The manifold problems of the public educational system in this country are well-documented; too often, it’s enabled a patronage system supported by a union monopoly, leaving kids and their parents without hope for the future. Furthermore, the GOP is far better prepared to offer real solutions to this problem than the Democratic Party ever could be. Ronald Reagan once said that “good policy is good politics.” With education and immigration reform, the GOP has the opportunity to prove once again that Reagan was right.
Andy Kirchoff is the Illinois Leader of Cafe con Leche Republicans.