Much can be said about what Mitt Romneyâ€™s fatal embrace of hard-core positions on immigration did to his share of the Hispanic vote. (It shriveled, to 27 percent, according to exit polls, compared with 44 percent for George W. Bush in 2004.) Mr. Romney could have followed Mr. Bushâ€™s moderation and won over many Latinos, but he lurched to the right, pushing xenophobic schemes for â€śself-deportationâ€ť and hailing Arizona as a model for immigration reform.
Some Republicans have been warning one another for years about the stupidity of alienating a fast-growing and influential group of Americans. Itâ€™s not working. The Hispanic vote went overwhelmingly to Democrats in House and Senate races as well, by roughly the same 75-to-25 split. â€śWe have to fix our Hispanic problem as quickly as possible,â€ť said John Weaver, a Republican strategist.
Heâ€™s right. But the Republicans donâ€™t have a Hispanic problem. They have an America problem, a country that is growing more diverse and, on a wide range of issues, shows a sensible moderation and social tolerance far out of step with radio ranting and Tea Party rigidity. It wasnâ€™t just Hispanics who heartily rejected Republicans on Tuesday. It also was African-Americans, Asian-Americans, young people and, to perhaps the greatest effect, women.
In exit polls on Tuesday night, two-thirds of voters said undocumented immigrants working in the United States should be offered a chance to apply for legal status. Only about one in three said they should be deported. (At the state level, in Maryland, voters overwhelmingly approved giving in-state college tuition rates to young undocumented immigrants.) Six in 10 voters said abortion should be legal. More than 50 percent said they believed the economy favors the wealthy, and most of them supported raising taxes on people making more than $250,000.
For a party that has built itself up on explicit and implied appeals to xenophobia, cultural resentment and income-redistribution for the rich, ideological purity is not a long-term strategy for success.
It is impossible to say how harshly the opaque Mr. Romney would have governed. But he and his party still blindly espouse a rigid theology that worships at the shrine of tax cuts and filibusters. It still includes ideologues whose views on issues like womenâ€™s health range from retrograde to medieval. Men like Rush Limbaugh and Bill Oâ€™Reilly are willing to say in public what Mr. Romney would say only in private to donors: half of Americans are â€śvictimsâ€ť who feel entitled to health care, food and housing from the government.
This wretched worldview does not apply to all Republicans all the time. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey recently found things to admire in a Democratic presidentâ€™s big-government help in an emergency. But the talk-show host Mark Levin told him to â€śshut the hell up.â€ť
If the Republican Party turns away from self-destruction, it should do so for the right reasons. America shouldnâ€™t reform immigration because Republicans need to add slices to their shrinking loaf of Wonder Bread. It should fix immigration because the system is broken and unjust and millions of people are suffering. Republicans should embrace family values for all families, gay families, too â€” along with protecting reproductive rights and access to health care â€” because these are the right things to do for the country weâ€™re in, not the country they imagine it to be.