The best keep secret in American politics: traditional California-Latinos (Mexicans specifically) are conservative. From traditional family values to closely held religious beliefs; from a rugged work ethic to a sense of personal responsibility; from a tradition of service in the armed forces to a belief that America is truly an exceptional nation, the characteristics embodied by California-Hispanics evince a natural alignment with a conservative party.
So why then do they vote 2:1 for Democrats? (The first one to raise their hand gets an Identify-the-Obvious badge) Answer: Immigration – more precisely, the idiotic manner in which the California Republican Party approaches the issue.
The 2010 census numbers are out. In California, Hispanics are just 2.5% behind non-Hispanic whites: 37.6% and 40.1% of the total population, respectively. Among Californians under 18, a majority are Hispanic. They will certainly influence the direction of California in the near-term, and perhaps the nation. Both need saving.
California and the country are heading over a cliff to fiscal ruin. Republicans are talking about entitlement reform and debt reduction; whether they can deliver remains to be seen. Meaningful reform will not come from the left side of the aisle. Either Washington Democrats fail to appreciate the urgency, or they believe that stepping on the gas pedal is the solution.
Common sense dictates that the mounting national debt, and accompanying interest payments, be addressed sooner rather than later. Fiscally-conservative Republicans appear poised to deal with the problem, but they do not wield enough power in Washington to do so. Despite impressive gains in the 2010 mid-term elections, Republicans did not have a clean sweep. They failed to gain a majority in the Senate and the ability to place a responsible budget on the President’s desk – a budget that truly addresses entitlement reform.
Is it possible for Republicans to complete the 2010 electoral-wave that petered out in Nevada, and died at the California border? Cue California-Mexicans.
The new census numbers reveal an emergent California-Hispanic population. For political professionals whose relationship with the Latino community is primarily based on campaign events coordinated by the Democratic Party, the new numbers are encouraging. Democratic operatives with a slightly more intimate knowledge of California-Mexican culture understand a subtle (and unsettling) truth: California-Mexicans are Democrats largely because of Republicans, not because they are liberal.
The California-Mexican community is not homogeneous. As with all large and diverse groups some are liberal, but equal (if not greater) numbers are conservative. The Democrats’ hope of maintaining political hegemony in California rides on the continued failures of the California Republican Party, which at the moment seems a safe bet. But what if that dynamic changes?
What would happen if Republican leaders stopped running California-Mexicans out of the party, i.e. approached immigration as if they were in California as opposed to Indiana? Would a majority of Hispanics continue to vote Democrat based on support for a liberal-progressive platform? Would they be inclined to vote for unregulated abortion-on-demand? Or be enamored with a secular-humanist world view that excludes God from most aspects of public life? Wouldn’t all good Catholics?
At present, better than one-in-three California-Hispanics vote for the GOP, in spite of the self destructive immigration rhetoric. How California-Latinos would react to a transformed conservative party is the key to a new political paradigm.
California has the greatest number of electoral votes, the largest population in the Union, and the world’s eighth largest economy. Any shift in the Golden State’s political axis would reverberate throughout the nation. If California “goes red” (or even becomes a swing-state), then Democrats would be forced to the middle, effectively marginalizing the progressive wing of the party.
If heated immigration rhetoric and race-baiting are excluded from the national debate, then wedge-issue politics diminish. Left to fill the void, the day’s most pressing issues: an existential debt crisis, a broken health care system, a burgeoning China, and a Middle East on fire. Substantive debate could then proceed on the merits, in the marketplace of ideas.
Nonetheless, there is no talk of a “Red California” on the Sunday news shows. The pundits and professional politicos do not think it possible. But how many of them are from California? How many were raised in California? Of those who were, how many have spent significant time in and around California-Mexican culture?
If the California-Hispanic voting trends change to an even 50-50 split (from the current 65-35 split in favor of Democrats) then California would flip to the GOP. It can happen, but the right approach must be taken, and the right candidates found. A red California would fundamentally transform national politics and policy going forward.
How may the flip occur?
There is a relatively un-nuanced way forward for a conservative party to court California-Mexicans; it all turns on immigration. The rhetoric must change, not the general policy. The first step is to jettison the idea that the conservative-base is antagonistic toward Mexicans. This may be the case in some Midwestern states, but not in California.
Many in the California conservative-base are childhood friends of Latinos, cousins of Hispanics, married to Mexicans, have Latino children, and in many cases are Hispanic themselves. California is a melting pot. Conservative Californians are angered by the situation on the border, but generally do not project that anger onto individual California-Mexicans. That they are upset with people who are Mexican (e.g. drug traffickers) does not ipso facto equal upset with Mexicans generally. The heated immigration rhetoric is unnecessary and counterproductive even when the base is the audience.
The second step is to embrace the fact that many California-Latinos truly are conservative. Large numbers of California-Hispanics believe in controlling the border. They appreciate the concept of sovereignty; they are simply put off by the tone of the debate.
Core conservative principles should be championed: American exceptionalism, strong national defense, fiscal responsibility, and a plan to reduce the national debt. If California-Mexicans are simply identified, recognized for their role in California life and culture, and not affirmatively alienated by heated immigration rhetoric, then significant numbers will show up on Election Day.
Illegal-immigration must be addressed honestly. Blaming farm-workers for border insecurity is either disingenuous or uninformed. The border problem lies with enforcement, and a conservative party in California must make that crystal clear. Ultimately, the responsibility starts and stops with the Federal Government. Vilifying those who would cross to feed their family is misguided as a substantive policy-position; and as a political strategy, for a party that would seek a majority in California, it is idiotic.
A conservative party can be absolutely tough on illegal-immigration without offending the base or conservative Mexican-Americans. Aside from the Federal Government’s failure, and the need for new enforcement mechanisms, actual criminals and drug traffickers should be the focus. Coincidentally, no one is tougher on Mexicans who cross the border for criminal purposes than Mexican-Americans.
A simple and honest approach is needed. Immigration rhetoric that focuses on farm-workers is disingenuous. The passion and indignation must be directed at those most culpable. If done, a California conservative party would find many allies in the Latino community, and many new voters.
The country is heading over a cliff. California holds the key to a new political paradigm. There exists a large contingent of would-be-conservative voters in California that, if successfully integrated into a big-tent party, would put California in play. National politics and policy would undergo a fundamental shift, and not a moment too soon.
Joseph Anthony Carlos is a Deputy District Attorney in Sutter County, California.