Monday, December 27, 2010

Tequila for the GOP

The newest thing to hit the newspapers is the Tequila Party. No, it’s not some college drinking game, but an incipient grassroots political movement. Modeled after the Tea Party (in structure, not agenda), it aims to mobilize Hispanic voters to push for immigration reform.

Its founders threaten to break the Hispanic vote off from the Democrats, where it has long served as a bastion of support. The Tequila big-Shots argue that the Democrats have taken the Hispanic vote for granted and have thus done little to meet their needs. This undoubtedly true, but unsurprisingly the heavy-hitting and xenophobic fringe of the GOP has prevented the Republican Party from peeling off the Hispanic vote. Until maybe now. The Tequila Party is yet another sign of the need for realignment in the political landscape. The GOP should do everything it can to promote the free movement of the Hispanic vote.

The logic behind this strategy is clear. First, as the Tequila Party displays, there is growing dissatisfaction in Latino communities at being a rubber stamp for Democratic candidates. This opens a prime window for the GOP to step in. Second, due to demographic changes, the Latino population is becoming increasingly important in many electoral districts. This has been compounded by redistricting following the 2010 Census, where Hispanic-heavy states such as Texas, Florida, Arizona, and Nevada, all gained seats in the House or Representatives (and Electoral College). As The Washington Post expounds, “Much of the population growth is attributed to Hispanics, who tend to vote Democratic. As a result, Republican candidates won't necessarily have a lock on all of the seats created.”

These ‘logistical’ issues alone demand Republican attention; however, Hispanics often make natural allies for the GOP on many issues. For instance, many Hispanics share traditional, family-oriented values that are endemic on the Right. However, due to the Democrats’ success, aided by a small but vocal far-right, at portraying Republicans as anti-Hispanic, the Left has been successful at minimizing the rightward drift of the Hispanic vote. This has chiefly, although not exclusively, been an issue in the immigration debate.

The GOP needs to change tack quickly. The new Congress should come out leading on immigration reform and attempt to set a tone and agenda that displays a pro-Hispanic sentiment. This does not mean discarding the principles of border security, legality, and fair-play that have been staples of the Right’s position, but redefining the battle with the Left to not only display a new image but to show those Hispanics who have blindly followed the Democrats that there is another perspective that can speak to their interests.

First, anti-illegal immigration has to be separated from anti-immigration. The GOP must come out strongly in support of legal immigration. Not only is our nation built on this open model, but continued immigration is necessary for America to maintain its primacy. Democrats have done a phenomenal job at muddling the two issues, which has done the GOP much disservice. Rhetorically, for every attack on illegal immigration from the right and every labeling as anti-immigrant from the left, Republicans must respond with acclamations of support for legal immigration. Words, however, are useless alone and must be complemented with proposals to facilitate easier and fairer immigration for both skilled and un-skilled workers.

Second, the GOP needs to demonstrate that playing by the rules is in everyone’s interest. While seemingly obvious on its face, this point often gets lost (or drowned) in the hubbub of politics. In particular, it needs to be shown that having clear-cut and enforced rules for immigration benefit not just non-Hispanic Americans, but legalized Hispanic-Americans as well. Secure borders and fair-play (not cutting the line via amnesty) are necessary for all Americans to get the most out of this country. Playing by the rules is not an excuse for exclusionary action but the structure that is necessary for a functioning society.

Third, Republicans need to offer a solution to the immigration issue that reconciles the need for immigration (pro-market and pro-Hispanic family) with the needs for rule-of-law and security. This is something that is easily achievable if Republicans simply take the initiative. Immigration reform is essentially a political problem that can be solved under fair, conservative principles. Aside from the far-left open-border type and the far-right xenophobes, a solution could be designed that would satisfy most Americans. The underlying principle that costs to illegal immigration need to be sufficiently high, while costs to legal immigration sufficiently low is the logical starting ground.

Immigration reform should be the first area where the GOP begins its efforts. It is clearly the most volatile and emotional issue. Republican leadership (and justice) on this issue will create significant advances into a community that can serve as a strong electoral base. While the Tequila Party may not end up being the ideal vehicle for GOP inroads into the Hispanic population – its platform is still largely unclear, if not non-existent – the message it brings is resounding – the Hispanic population is a prime and necessary demographic which the GOP needs to start courting.

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