-Rafael- Ted, says Senator-elect Rafael Edward "Ted" Cruz (R-TX). Cruz is a ¡Vendido! who may try to sell himself to the pale Dumbos/Teabaggers, but La Raza won't buy it. If -Rafael-/Ted runs with the nativist pack as a Dumbo loyalist, he will be marked down as a one-hit wonder in (groan) 2018. In the meantime, Ryan Lizza considers the question o'the day for Lone Star Dumbos/Teabaggers: ¿Por Donde Vayas? If this is a (fair & balanced) consideration of Dumbo/Teabagger obsolescence, so be it.
[x New Yorker]
The Party Next Time
By Ryan Lizza
Tag Cloud of the following article
When historians look back on Mitt Romney’s bid for the Presidency, one trend will be clear: no Republican candidate ever ran a similar campaign again. For four decades, from Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan through the two Bush Presidencies, the Republican Party won the White House by amassing large margins among white voters. Nixon summoned the silent majority. Reagan cemented this bloc of voters, many of whom were former Democrats. Both Bushes won the Presidency by relying on broad support from Reagan Democrats. In that time, Republicans transformed the South from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican, and they held the White House for twenty-eight out of forty years. Last Tuesday, Romney won three-fifths of the white vote, matching or exceeding what several winning Presidential candidates, including Reagan in 1980 and Bush in 1988, achieved, but it wasn’t enough. The white share of the electorate, which was eighty-seven per cent in 1992, has steadily declined by about three points in every Presidential election since then. At the present rate, by 2016, whites will make up less than seventy per cent of voters. Romney’s loss to Barack Obama brought an end not just to his eight-year quest for the Presidency but to the Republican Party’s assumptions about the American electorate.
Some interpretations of the election results by conservatives were particularly dark. Mary Matalin, the Republican commentator, wrote that Obama was a “political narcissistic sociopath” who “leveraged fear and ignorance” to win. On Tuesday evening, before the race was called, Bill O’Reilly, after acknowledging that “the demographics are changing,” offered the following explanation for an Obama victory: “It’s not a traditional America anymore. And there are fifty per cent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama. He knows it and he ran on it. Whereby twenty years ago President Obama would have been roundly defeated by an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney. The white establishment is now the minority.” He added, “You’re going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama. Overwhelming black vote for President Obama.”
But far from Fox News Channel’s newsroom in Manhattan and the insular world of the Beltway’s conservative commentariat, one significant element of the Republican Party has for the past two years been grappling with and adapting to the demographic future that was so starkly revealed by last Tuesday’s outcome. On Halloween, less than a week before Election Day, I rode with Ted Cruz, now the senator-elect from Texas, who was folded into the back seat of a Toyota Corolla as an aide drove him from San Antonio to Austin. Cruz, who has a thick head of pomaded, neatly combed hair, is a former college debate champion and Supreme Court litigator, and is a commanding public speaker. That morning, he had addressed a small crowd of employees eating Kit Kats and candy corn at Valero, a major oil refiner whose headquarters are in San Antonio. As he told the story of his father’s journey from Cuba to Texas, the room fell silent. Cruz, who is forty-one, eschews teleprompters, instead roaming across the stage and speaking slowly and dramatically, with well-rehearsed sweeps of his hands. He is one of several political newcomers who offer hope to Republicans after a disappointing election.
In the car, sipping a Diet Dr Pepper while he talked about his background and discussed the future of the Party, Cruz was more down to earth than his Hermès tie and Patek Philippe watch suggested. He said that he had relaxed the previous evening at his hotel by watching “Cowboys and Aliens.” “It is every bit as stupid as it sounds,” he said. “But it actually has a really good cast.”
Cruz, a lawyer who was solicitor general of Texas from 2003 to 2008, combines a compelling personal biography with philosophically pure conservatism. He won his Senate primary in an upset, earlier this year, partly by adhering to the secure-the-borders mentality popular with most Texas Republicans. He promised to triple the size of the U.S. Border Patrol and to build a larger border wall than his opponent proposed. In January, when he is sworn in, he will become one of the most right-wing members of the U.S. Senate. A Tea Party favorite who also happens to be Hispanic, Cruz is viewed by many as a key figure in helping to transform the Party. According to exit polls, Hispanics, one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. population, made up ten per cent of the electorate, their highest share in American history, and Romney lost the Hispanic vote to Obama by a margin of seventy-one per cent to twenty-seven per cent, the lowest level of support for a Republican since 1996.
Cruz is a first-generation citizen. His father, Rafael, as a teen-ager in Cuba, fought alongside Castro’s revolutionaries against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. He was jailed and beaten by the regime. “My grandmother said that his suit, which had started out bright white, you couldn’t see a spot of white on it,” Cruz said. “It was just stained with blood and mud, and his teeth were dangling from his mouth.” Rafael left for the United States, and in 1957 started at the University of Texas on a student visa. He continued to support Castro. “He learned English very quickly and began going around to local Rotary Clubs and Kiwanis Clubs and speaking about the Revolution and raising money for Castro,” Cruz said. “He was a young revolutionary. He would get Austin businesspeople to write checks.”
When Castro came to power, in 1959, the elder Cruz quickly grew disillusioned. His younger sister fought in the counter-revolution and was tortured by the new regime. Rafael returned to Cuba in 1960 to see his family, and was shaken by what Castro’s Communist dictatorship had wrought. “When my father got back to Austin,” Cruz said, “he sat down and made a list of every place he’d gone to speak, and he made a point of going back to each of them and standing in front of them and saying, ‘I owe you an apology. I misled you. I took your money and I sent it to evil ends.’ And he said, ‘I didn’t do so knowingly, but I did so nonetheless, and for that I’m truly sorry.’ When I was a kid, my dad told me that story over and over again. To me, that always defined character: to have the courage to go back and apologize.”
Rafael made sure that his son entered politics from the opposite side of the political spectrum. In high school, Ted became involved with a group known as the Free Market Education Foundation, which introduced him to the writings of conservative economic philosophers such as Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Frédéric Bastiat, and Ludwig von Mises. Cruz travelled to Rotary and Kiwanis groups in Texas as his father had a generation earlier. But, instead of expounding on Castro, he competed against other teen-agers in speech contests; the contestants delivered twenty minutes of memorized remarks about free-market economics. He soon joined a spinoff group, the Constitutional Corroborators, and learned a mnemonic device for memorizing an abbreviated version of the Constitution, which he and other club members would write out on easels for lunchtime crowds of Rotarians or local political groups around Texas. By the time he graduated from high school, he had given several dozen speeches across the state.
“It was transformational,” Cruz said. “The two strongest influences on my life were that experience and the personal experience of my family’s story and my father’s flight from Cuba.”
Cruz already has had a remarkably successful career in law and politics. He is the first to point out that he has excelled at almost everything he has set out to do: the early speech contests (“I was one of the city winners all four years when I was in high school”); academics (“I was the first person from my high school ever to go to any Ivy League college”); his Princeton debate career (“I was the No. 1 speaker”); his time at Harvard Law School (“I was on three different law journals, was a primary editor of the Harvard Law Review, and an executive editor of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, and then a founding editor of the Harvard Latino Law Review”); his clerkship, from 1995 to 1996, for Judge Michael Luttig (“widely considered the top conservative federal appellate judge in the country”) and, from 1996 to 1997, for former Chief Justice William Rehnquist (“he and I were very, very close”); his five and a half years as solicitor general (“ended up over the years really winning some of the biggest cases in the country—year after year after year”); and his record of arguing nine cases before the Supreme Court (“it is the most of any practicing lawyer in the state of Texas”).
Cruz’s coming challenge is his biggest yet. As with other Hispanic Republicans elected recently—New Mexico’s governor, Susana Martinez; Nevada’s governor, Brian Sandoval; Senator Marco Rubio, of Florida—his last name and heritage, along with his conservative leanings, assure that Republicans will look to him to help lead them out of the demographic wilderness. He might even run for President in 2016. Though he was born in Canada, he informed me that he was qualified to serve. “The Constitution requires that one be a natural-born citizen,” he said, “and my mother was a U.S. citizen when I was born.”
As a senator from Texas, the largest and most important state in the Republican firmament, Cruz has a special role in the post-Romney debate. At the Presidential level, Texas has thirty-eight electoral votes, second only to California, which has fifty-five. It anchors the modern Republican Party, in the same way that California and New York anchor the Democratic Party. But, Cruz told me, the once unthinkable idea of Texas becoming a Democratic state is now a real possibility.
“If Republicans do not do better in the Hispanic community,” he said, “in a few short years Republicans will no longer be the majority party in our state.” He ticked off some statistics: in 2004, George W. Bush won forty-four per cent of the Hispanic vote nationally; in 2008, John McCain won just thirty-one per cent. On Tuesday, Romney fared even worse.
“In not too many years, Texas could switch from being all Republican to all Democrat,” he said. “If that happens, no Republican will ever again win the White House. New York and California are for the foreseeable future unalterably Democrat. If Texas turns bright blue, the Electoral College math is simple. We won’t be talking about Ohio, we won’t be talking about Florida or Virginia, because it won’t matter. If Texas is bright blue, you can’t get to two-seventy electoral votes. The Republican Party would cease to exist. We would become like the Whig Party. Our kids and grandkids would study how this used to be a national political party. ‘They had Conventions, they nominated Presidential candidates. They don’t exist anymore.’ ”
At the headquarters of the Republican Party of Texas, in Austin, an observer finds it difficult to take Cruz’s warning seriously. One wall of the waiting room is plastered with framed photographs of Republicans who hold statewide office in Texas. Governor Rick Perry’s face is in the center; surrounding him is the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, various commissioners—which are powerful positions in Texas—and numerous judges. Every one of the twenty-seven statewide offices is held by a Republican, as are both U.S. Senate seats and twenty-four out of thirty-six House seats. At the state capitol, across the street from the G.O.P. headquarters, Republicans control the State Senate and House. Texas is essentially a one-party state.
But others share Cruz’s alarm that this could quickly change. Steve Munisteri, the fifty-four-year-old chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, whose father was an Italian immigrant, grew up in Houston and has been involved in state Republican politics since 1972, when Texas was solidly Democratic. Munisteri saw how racial politics transformed Texas, which gradually shifted from one party to the other when conservative white Democrats fled to the G.O.P. The exodus began in 1964, the year President Lyndon Johnson, the former Texas senator, passed the Civil Rights Act. “There goes the South for a generation,” he is said to have remarked, as he signed the bill into law.
Texas was slower than the other Southern states to see its politics invert. When George H. W. Bush was elected to Congress from Houston, in 1966, he was one of only two Republicans in the House delegation. Jimmy Carter carried the state in 1976. But in 1978 Bill Clements became the state’s first Republican governor in a hundred and four years. A young operative named Karl Rove worked on his campaign and joined his administration as a top adviser. Clements was voted out of office four years later, but, with Rove at the helm of his next effort, he returned in 1986. Since then, the state has become steadily more Republican. The election of the Democrat Ann Richards, who won the governorship in 1990 and served just one term before being defeated by Rove’s next gubernatorial candidate, George W. Bush, was something of a fluke. She had a narrow victory against a weak candidate, who, among other campaign missteps, made a joke about rape and during one encounter refused to shake Richards’s hand.
In 2010, Munisteri, a lawyer who has had stints in real estate and as a color commentator for boxing matches, took over the state Party, winning the chairmanship from an establishment that had all but given up on appealing to Hispanics in the methodical way that George W. Bush did as the state’s governor from 1995 to 2000. Munisteri has the look that most political operatives seem to attain in middle age: rumpled, and filled with nervous energy. “I’m a natural worrywart,” he said.
He was suffering from an allergy attack, and while fighting back a fit of coughing he searched through heaps of papers strewn behind his desk and handed me some charts that foretold the demise of the Republican Party, first in Texas and then nationally. One graph showed four lines falling from left to right, measuring Republican voting trends in Texas. “Look at that; it’ll show you the decline of the Republican Party over ten years,” he said. Actually, there was a significant bump up in 2010, a gift from President Obama, who helped reverse the slide by energizing the Tea Party movement, but what frightened him was the downward slope of the lines from 2000 to 2008. There were fewer and fewer white voters as a percentage of the electorate.
“If I say to you, your life depends on picking whether the following state is Democrat or Republican, what would you pick?” Munisteri asked. “The state is fifty-five per cent traditional minority. Thirty-eight per cent is Hispanic, eleven per cent is African-American, and the rest is Asian-American, and two-thirds of all births are in a traditional minority family. And if I was to tell you that, nationwide, last time, Republicans got only roughly four per cent of the African-American vote and about a third of the Hispanic vote, would you say that state is Democrat or Republican? Well, that’s Texas. We are the only majority-minority state in the union that people consider Republican.”
Immigration from Mexico only partly accounts for the change. More than a million Americans have moved to Texas in the past decade, many from traditionally Democratic states. More than three hundred and fifty thousand Californians have arrived in the past five years; since 2005, over a hundred thousand Louisianans permanently relocated to Texas, mostly in Houston, after Hurricane Katrina. The population is also skewing younger, which means more Democratic. But Munisteri is more preoccupied by the racial and ethnic changes. He turned to a chart showing Texas’s population by ethnic group over the next few decades. A red line, representing the white population, plunged from almost fifty-five per cent, in 2000, to almost twenty-five per cent, in 2040; a blue line, the Hispanic population, climbed from thirty-two per cent to almost sixty per cent during the same period. He pointed to the spot where the two lines crossed, as if it augured a potential apocalypse. “This shows when Hispanics will become the largest group in the state,” he said. “That’s somewhere in 2014. We’re almost at 2013!” He added, “You cannot have a situation with the Hispanic community that we’ve had for forty years with the African-American community, where it’s a bloc of votes that you almost write off. You can’t do that with a group of citizens that are going to compose a majority of this state by 2020, and which will be a plurality of this state in about a year and a half.”
He told me that he had a slide that he wouldn’t show me, because he didn’t want Democrats to know about his calculations. He said that it depicted the percentage of the white vote that Republicans would have to attract if they continued to do as poorly as they have among Hispanics.
“By 2040, you’d have to get over a hundred per cent of the Anglo vote,” he said.
“Over a hundred per cent is not possible,” I offered.
“That’s my point!”
Munisteri travels around the country with his slide show, urgently arguing that Republicans will wither away if they don’t adapt. In the spring, he briefed Republican members of Texas’s congressional delegation. After half an hour, a congressman rose to summarize the material.
“What you’re saying is that if the Republican Party is not doing its job attracting Hispanics to the Party, the Party in a very short time nationally and in Texas will be toast?” Munisteri replied, “That’s it, Congressman.”
Munisteri has been doing all he can to begin to alter the trajectory of Republicans in Texas. One of his first projects has been to rebrand the Party. For years, Texas delegates to the Republican National Convention have worn cowboy hats and loud shirts paid for by the state G.O.P., making them instantly recognizable on the Convention floor and the subject of a disproportionate number of photographs. It’s not the image that Munisteri wants to project. “This state has a population that’s so much more diverse than the rest of the country is aware of,” he said. “Other people think there are cowboys down here and horses and it’s a bunch of Billy Bobs.” This year, he refused to fund the attire that his delegates regularly wore. “I said, ‘We’re not buying hats and shirts, because I’m tired of having to go to the R.N.C. and have everybody think we dress like that in Texas,’ ” he said. But the delegates rebelled, and some Republican donors decided to buy the outfits for them anyway.
Munisteri, who as chairman is not supposed to push his own policy ideas on the Party, has spent a lot of time trying to get Republicans to sound more welcoming to Hispanics. In one sense, he is simply returning to his party’s recent past. As governor, George W. Bush was a zealous advocate of reaching out to Hispanics. He supported bilingual education and was in favor of government services, like health care and education, for unauthorized immigrants. As President, he strongly supported an immigration-reform proposal that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants living in the United States illegally. He saw it as both business-friendly and as a way for the Party to attract Hispanic support and build a more durable coalition than relying disproportionately on white voters.
By 2006, the proposal had become anathema to most conservatives, who ridiculed it as “amnesty for illegals.” When Bush tried to push it through Congress, conservatives defeated it, following an often toxic debate that reversed all of Bush’s gains among Hispanics. In 2008, McCain, who had sponsored the Bush legislation, lost Hispanics by sixty-seven per cent to thirty-one per cent. In 2012, Romney, who had once seemed to support the Bush legislation, moved far to the right on immigration, calling on undocumented citizens to “self-deport” and attacking Governor Perry for signing legislation, in 2001, that allowed unauthorized immigrants in Texas to qualify for in-state tuition rates.
Munisteri advises Republicans in Texas to talk about Hispanics as an integral part of the state’s history, whose ancestors, in many cases, arrived in Texas long before those of much of the Anglo population. On immigration, he says, the Republican base needs “reëducating,” so that conservatives understand that immigration is essential to the country’s prosperity.
In his effort to tug the Texas G.O.P. into the future, Munisteri hired David Zapata, a young evangelical Christian from a border town, as his Hispanic-outreach director. And he has embarked on a micro-targeting project that uses consumer data to find Hispanics who don’t vote for Republicans but exhibit buying patterns that suggest they might be conservative, such as subscribing to Guns & Ammo or giving money to pro-life causes. Since 2010, he has succeeded in getting Republicans elected in some of the most Hispanic areas of the state.
Munisteri’s interest in making the Party a home for Hispanics and thus saving his party is partly a result of his own experience. He grew up in the state in the nineteen-sixties, when it was overwhelmingly white. “There was very little diversity at Anglo high schools,” he said. “And I’m not Anglo. When I was younger, not often, but enough, I was subjected to people who didn’t like me just because I was Italian. You don’t ever get to find common ground with other people if they think you’re prejudiced or racist against them.” He added, “If I overhear you tell a Wop joke . . . I mean, personally, I won’t vote for people that I think are prejudiced against Italian-Americans.”
Even though many Republicans agree that the Party must become more hospitable to Hispanics, there is little consensus on how best to do so and still qualify as conservative. Ted Cruz argues that Hispanics can be won over by appeals to traditional values of hard work. “I’ve never in my life seen a Hispanic panhandler,” he said, as we rode out of San Antonio. “In the Hispanic community, it would be considered shameful to be out on the street begging.” He added, “They have conservative values. Hispanics don’t want to be on the dole. They’re not here to be dependent on government.” He rejected the idea that Republicans needed to go back to the Bush-era policies on immigration. “I think those that say that, for Republicans to connect with the Hispanic community, they need to adopt amnesty and not secure the borders, I think that’s foolishness.”
Many Republicans in Texas suggested that the fact that Cruz is Hispanic is enough for him to win votes in that community. To prove the point, some mentioned Quico Canseco, a Republican who won a Texas House seat in 2010 in a Democratic district by running as a Tea Party conservative, and whose reëlection bid this year was closely contested. His district is sixty-six per cent Hispanic and spreads some six hundred miles, from San Antonio to the western edge of Texas. It includes most of the state’s border with Mexico. Like Cruz, Canseco, both in 2010 and in 2012, ran as an opponent of the kind of immigration reforms championed by George W. Bush. A few days before the election, when I interviewed Canseco, who is the son of Mexican immigrants and was born in Laredo, a border town that is ninety-six per cent Hispanic, he gave no hint of moderation on any of the immigration issues that have become so important to conservative Republicans in the past few years.
Canseco told me that he didn’t have any problem with how Romney talked about immigration, and he said that he opposed the Obama Administration’s policy on protecting some unauthorized immigrants from deportation. “I’m very much against open borders, because we are a sovereign nation, and I’m against amnesty,” he said. Instead of running on immigration reform, Canseco emphasized social issues. In the final stretch of the campaign, he mailed a bilingual flyer to voters which asserted that Democrats “said no to God” at their Convention, “want to provide abortions for underage girls,” and “want marriage to be between man & man.” The three accusations were illustrated with a picture of Jesus, one of a baby, and a photograph of two men kissing passionately.
But to speak of the “Hispanic population” is an oversimplification, akin to collectively describing the waves of immigrants that arrived in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as European-Americans. In Florida, Cuban-Americans tend to vote for Republicans and Puerto Ricans tend to vote for Democrats. In Texas, the Tejanos have deep roots in the state and tend to be more open to the Republican Party; the more recent immigrants from across the border are known simply as Mexican-Americans, who largely came to the United States after the Mexican Revolution of 1910, when Mexico established a robust welfare state, and are more commonly Democrats.
While Cruz and Canseco embrace a Tea Party approach to the G.O.P.’s Hispanic problem, elsewhere in Texas a different strategy is being tested. One afternoon, I met with Art Martinez de Vara, the mayor of Von Ormy, a town of thirteen hundred residents, southwest of San Antonio, which dates to the eighteenth century. His ancestors arrived in San Antonio, from colonial Mexico, in the seventeen-nineties. “I have family that fought at the Alamo,” he said proudly, as we sat in a local campaign office in a strip mall. Martinez de Vara is thirty-seven, with a Chris Christie-size midsection, and he has arguably been more influential within the Party than any other immigration reformer of the past few years.
In 2008, Martinez de Vara co-founded the Latino National Republican Coalition of Texas, now called the Texas Federation of Hispanic Republicans. “A lot of people don’t like the word ‘Latino,’ ” he said. “They find it offensive, or too Californian.” The group recruits and supports Hispanics to run at the local level in South Texas. In our conversation, he criticized both Cruz’s and Canseco’s approaches to their campaigns. When I asked whether Cruz’s Latin surname was enough for him to win over Hispanics, one of Martinez de Vara’s friends, Gina Castañeda, a political activist who manages local campaigns, interrupted us. She said, “In the Hispanic or Mexican community, there’s some—” She hesitated. “How can I say it nicely? They don’t like Cubans. Or Puerto Ricans.” Martinez de Vara agreed. “Even within Mexico, they look down upon Caribbean Hispanics,” he said.
But his real problem with Cruz and Canseco was their view on immigration. During Cruz’s primary against the state’s lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, Martinez de Vara and his group stayed out of the race. “We didn’t endorse,” he said. “They both competed over who was the most extreme on immigration, which we weren’t that interested in. It was about who was the most conservative.” He mentioned that among the jobs on Cruz’s long résumé was campaign adviser to Bush. “Cruz was part of the Bush team when it proposed immigration reform,” he said, noting with frustration how Republicans have flipped on the issue in recent years. “He was one of his chief policy advisers.”
Martinez de Vara argued that jobs, education, and crime ultimately are more important issues than immigration to Hispanics in Texas. Still, he insisted that Republicans have to move back to the pro-reform positions of the Bush years. “There’s a small faction of the Republican Party that opposes this at every level,” he said. “What are they proposing? A border wall? That’s massive confiscation of private property. We oppose that in every other context. It’s a big-government, big-spending project. We oppose that in every other context. Arming the government with greater police powers? We oppose that in every other context. This is big-government liberalism, and for conservatives it just makes no sense.”
In 2010, the platform of the Republican Party of Texas included some of the country’s most restrictionist language on immigration. It referred repeatedly to “illegal aliens” and called for an “unimpeded deportation process,” elimination of all government benefits to unauthorized immigrants, and the adoption of policies that would mirror the controversial “Show me your papers” provision of Arizona’s immigration law.
Early this year, Martinez de Vara and his allies from the Texas Federation of Hispanic Republicans decided that they would rewrite the state Party platform on immigration. “There was a minority in the Party that was vocal and basically hijacking that issue,” he said. “And so we took it to the convention.” The Republican Party of Texas’s convention includes some nine thousand delegates. They met in early June, in Fort Worth. Martinez de Vara pushed new language through a subcommittee on immigration that he chaired and then through a full committee. Munisteri, the Party chairman, made sure that the issue received a thorough hearing, a move that angered a significant faction of his party. The debate came down to a contentious floor fight in which the new language was challenged four times. Martinez de Vara rose at one point and delivered the soliloquy that he gave me about how building a wall and confiscating property was big government. “When I said that on the floor of the Republican Party of Texas convention,” he said, “with nine thousand of the most diehard conservatives, people who paid two or three thousand dollars to go to Fort Worth and participate, I got seventy-five per cent of the vote. Because they all know it’s true!”
The platform no longer refers to “illegal aliens” and no longer has any language that could be construed as calling for Arizona-style laws. Instead, it proposes a “common ground” to find market-based solutions and “the application of effective, practical and reasonable measures to secure our borders.” Rather than expelling eleven million immigrants, it says, “Mass deportation of these individuals would neither be equitable nor practical.” Most significant, Martinez de Vara won adoption of language calling for a temporary-worker program. At around the time that Mitt Romney was winning the primary by attacking his opponents for being too soft on immigration, the largest state Republican Party in America was ridding its platform of its most restrictionist immigration language and calling for a program to allow unauthorized immigrants to stay in the U.S. legally and work.
A few months later, Martinez de Vara and his group took the fight to the national Convention, in Tampa, where he knew almost nobody. His main antagonist there was Kris Kobach, Kansas’s secretary of state and the leader of the movement to spread Arizona-style laws. Martinez de Vara wasn’t on the national committee, so he buttonholed sympathetic members in any way he could. “We had to hustle,” he said. “We were following people to the bathroom.” Although it was little noted at the time, Martinez de Vara and his national allies won the adoption of language saying that Republicans would “consider” a new guest-worker program. That language sits uneasily beside language about building a double-layered fence, stopping all federal funding for benefits for “illegals,” and dismissing the Justice Department’s lawsuit against Arizona’s law. “You have Kobach’s language alongside our language of a national guest-worker program,” Martinez de Vara said. “Which is huge. It was a massive shift. We got it in there.”
The victories have emboldened him. While Cruz and Munisteri and many other Republicans fret about losing the Hispanic vote, Martinez de Vara sees a future in which he and Hispanic Republicans like him inevitably take over the Party. He already talks about the Anglo population as a minority, one that will have to adapt to what’s coming in Texas politics. “If you’re coming from the Anglo community, you may be seeing the death of your party and your political power and the way you understand things,” he said. “You step on our side, the future looks bright. We know that we have so much in common with the Anglo community; we’re not going to alienate it. And in 2040 Texas will be ten per cent African-American, twenty-five per cent Anglo, roughly ten per cent Asian, and the rest is going to be Hispanic. We can build a governing coalition of conservatives among all those people. It’s just a different Republican Party than exists today.”
Back in the headquarters of the Republican Party of Texas, I visited with David Zapata, the state Party’s liaison to Hispanics. His parents are from Mexico. (When I asked him the name of their town, he said that he didn’t want it published. “The cartels,” he explained.) Zapata, who is thirty, didn’t learn English until high school; he speaks with an accent. His office was decorated with a photograph of George W. Bush and a Bush-Cheney campaign sign. There was no similarly prominent Romney memorabilia. “I’m a big Bush fan,” he told me with a smile. “Not for everything else—just for the emphasis that he gave to the Hispanic population.”
The Bush-family legacy looms over the Party’s relationship with Hispanics and may yet play a role in shaping it. As governor, George W. Bush won half the Hispanic vote when he was reëlected, in 1998. In Florida, his brother Jeb, the former governor of that state, who is frequently discussed as a potential Presidential candidate, was also popular. “Look at the Jeb Bush model, which is what we try to follow,” Munisteri said. “Jeb Bush got a higher percentage of the Hispanic vote in Florida than Marco Rubio, who is of Hispanic descent.” Next spring, Jeb is scheduled to publish a book outlining his views on immigration reform. In Texas, Jeb’s thirty-six-year-old son, George P., whose mother, Columba, grew up in Guanajuato, Mexico, has recently become a rising voice on the issue of Hispanic outreach. In 2010, he started the Hispanic Republicans of Texas, a group similar to Martinez de Vara’s, which recruits, trains, and funds Hispanic Republicans to run for office. Bush works at a private-equity firm that invests in the oil and gas industry, but his allies in the state told me that he would likely run for statewide office in 2014, and the day after the election he filed the paperwork to do so. “He’s got the talent, and the name, and he’s Hispanic,” said George P.’s friend Juan Hernandez, a Republican consultant who works closely with him. “What a combination! A Hispanic Bush! And he’s moreno—he’s dark.” Bush’s policy views are opaque, but he has surrounded himself with immigration reformers. For instance, Hernandez has come under attack from conservatives for his liberal views on the issue. On the other hand, Bush endorsed Cruz in his contentious primary. He could serve as a bridge between diehard conservatives and immigration reformers in the way that his uncle and his father did.
Despite the doomsday scenarios outlined by people like Munisteri, the Texas G.O.P. is far ahead of the national Party in dealing with the future. Two strategies are being tested. One is the kind of Republican identity politics exemplified by Cruz: the Party can continue its ideological shift to the right, especially on immigration, and appeal to Hispanics with candidates who share their ethnicity and perhaps speak their language. The more difficult path would see the G.O.P. retreat from its current position on immigration and take the direction advocated by Martinez de Vara and the Bush family.
If neither of these strategies succeeds, the consequences are clear. California was once a competitive state, the place that launched Ronald Reagan, but the G.O.P. there has now been reduced to a rump party, ideologically extreme and preponderately white. Republicans hold no statewide offices. After Tuesday, the Democrats also have a super-majority in the legislature, making it easier to raise taxes and overcome parliamentary obstacles like filibusters. In most accounts, the beginning of the Republican decline in California is traced to former Governor Pete Wilson’s attacks on benefits for unauthorized immigrants, which sounded to many voters like attacks on Hispanics. Farther east, in 2000 and 2004, New Mexico was one of the closest states in Presidential politics. In 2008, Obama won it by fifteen points. By 2012, it was no longer contested. Similarly, Nevada, which was fought over by both candidates this year, and which Obama won by six points, seems to have gone the way of California and New Mexico and will likely be safe for Democrats in 2016. The states aren’t identical: for example, California is more culturally liberal than Texas. But they all have growing nonwhite populations that overwhelmingly reject Republicans.
Demography is not necessarily destiny, however. The Democratic Party in Texas is leaderless and disorganized, ill-equipped to capitalize on the Republicans’ fear of their own extinction. Hispanic turnout is much lower in Texas than in other states with large Hispanic populations, such as California, and nobody seems to be moving aggressively to change the situation. “You don’t have one person trying to unify the collective energies of the Democratic Party with a goal toward putting a Democrat on the map statewide,” said Trey Martinez Fischer, a Democratic state representative who chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.
“There’s groundwork that needs to be done in Texas that simply hasn’t been done,” Julián Castro, a Democrat and the mayor of San Antonio, told me during an interview on CNN. He noted that whereas in California Hispanics vote at rates that are ten per cent lower than those of the rest of the electorate, in Texas Hispanics are twenty-five per cent less likely to vote. But he insisted that change was coming. “Within the next six to eight years,” he said, “I believe Texas will be at least a purple state, if not a blue state.”
Last Tuesday, the Democrats showed some signs of life. Zapata had given me a list of thirteen Hispanic Republicans I should watch on Election Day in Texas. Eleven of them lost, including Canseco. Cruz won, but his margin in Texas was the same as Romney’s, suggesting that he had no crossover appeal to Hispanic Democrats.
Like the G.O.P.’s contradictory language on immigration in its party platform, the two strategies for courting Hispanics co-exist uneasily. The debate in Texas is about to seize Washington. Obama has strongly indicated that he intends to see immigration reform—likely some version of the so-called dream Act, which would offer a path to citizenship for millions of unauthorized immigrants—passed in 2013. Before the election, Obama told the Des Moines Register that he was “confident” he could get it done, because “a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community.” Kay Bailey Hutchison, the Republican senator from Texas whom Cruz is replacing, told me after the election, “A compromise on the dream Act should be easy to get done now.”
If Romney had won, his party would have been able to figure out this vexing issue from a position of strength. Instead, it will have to respond to the Democrats, who are certain to play the tensions within the G.O.P. One person who understands this is Cruz. When we arrived in Austin, at the end of our trip together, he revealed his simple recipe for success.
“I think every case in litigation and every argument in politics is about the fundamental narrative,” he said. “If you can frame the narrative, you win. As Sun Tzu said, every battle is won before it is fought. And it is won by choosing the field of terrain on which the fight will be engaged.” For now, the field belongs to Obama and the Democrats, and the storyline on immigration is theirs to lose. Ω
[Ryan Lizza is the Washington Correspondent for The New Yorker magazine, where he covers the White House and national politics and writes the magazine's "Letter From Washington" column. Lizza joined The New Yorker after working at The New Republic, where he was a political correspondent from 1998 to 2007, covering the White House and Presidential politics. He was formerly a correspondent for GQ and a contributing editor for New York. He has also written for the New York Times, Washington Monthly, and the Atlantic Monthly. Lizza graduated from the University of California at Berkeley.]
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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at sapper.blogspot.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.
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