It was from their success in Texas that George Bush and Karl Rove devised their grand strategy for regaining the "lock" on the presidency that had been the legacy of Nixon and Reagan.
Nixon’s "New Majority" and the "Reagan Coalition" were built on the same foundation: a united Republican Party to which was added the socially conservative Democrats who would defect to the GOP on "God, gays and guns," and other battleground issues of the culture war.
Rove and Bush correctly perceived that, due to immigration, the Nixon-Reagan coalition, composed almost entirely of white voters, was shrinking in relative terms. Where, in 1960, European-Americans were nearly 90 percent of the population and an even higher share of the voters, today, they are less than 70 percent of the population.
Today, a Republican can sweep the white vote 55 percent to 45 percent, and still lose. And as President Clinton merrily predicted a few years ago, white folks will be just another minority in 2050, as they are already in California and Texas.
In short, Republicans need minority voters to survive as America’s Party. The Bush-Rove solution to the looming demographic disaster is to go all-out to court the nation’s fastest growing minority, Hispanics, who now number 40 million and 13 percent of the U.S. population. But, in seeking to win the Hispanic vote, the inherent defects of the Bush-Rove strategy have become manifestly clear.
First, Hispanics have never voted Republican in any presidential election. In his 49-state landslide in 1984, Reagan, despite a macho image that appealed to Hispanics, managed to win only 44 percent. In national elections, the Hispanic vote ranges between 56 percent and 75 percent Democratic. Thus, the more Hispanic America becomes, the more Democratic America becomes.
California, which Nixon carried on five tickets and Ronald Reagan never lost, is a harbinger of what is to come. With a fifth of the electoral votes needed to win the presidency, California has moved beyond the reach of a conservative Republican.
Reason: Though many Hispanics may be social conservatives, they believe in Big Government. Understandably so. For, as lower-income voters, they pay far less in income taxes than the average American, while benefiting far more from the welfare state: free education for their kids, food stamps, welfare checks, housing supplements, Medicaid, subsidized day care, student loans and grants, affirmative action, and earned income tax credits. At the local, state and federal level, Hispanics vote for the party of government.
Here, we come to the first hurdle in wooing Hispanics. The GOP is a small-government party whose faithful are appalled at President Bush’s fiscal imprudence. But if Bush, who has governed as a Great Society Republican, starts to imitate Bob Taft, he will have to slash spending and open himself to charges he is "balancing the budget on the backs of the Hispanic poor."
In short, there is an inherent contradiction between being the party of small government and being the party of Hispanics, and that contradiction is tearing the Bush-Rove coalition apart at the seams.
Now, an irreconcilable conflict looms. In a House vote before the Christmas-New Year’s break, Republicans endorsed a 700-mile security fence on the U.S.-Mexican border and tough sanctions on corporations that hire illegal aliens. No issue more fires up the populist base and white working-class Democrats than the issue of unprotected borders and the flooding of our cities and towns by some 12 million illegal aliens and counting.
For five years, President Bush has refused to deal with the crisis on the border, denouncing the Minutemen who went there to serve as spotters for a beleaguered Border Patrol as "vigilantes." For Bush and Rove believe that taking a tough line on illegal immigration will do to the national GOP what they think Gov. Pete Wilson’s hard line on illegal immigration did to the California GOP.
But now that immigration has become the hot domestic issue and Republicans are taking a tougher line, repudiating Bush’s guest-worker plan as amnesty, Bush is being compelled to come down harder himself against illegal immigration — or become irrelevant.
The question Bush and Rove face is this: Can the GOP be both the party that secures the border against Hispanic invaders and sanctions employers who hire them, and still be the party Hispanics will vote for? In the old imagery, if Bush reaches for the bird in the bush, the Hispanic vote, by favoring open borders and amnesty, he may lose the bird in the hand, the support of the white working and middle class that is the heart of the Republican coalition.
Bush and Rove think they can have both. They can’t. But if George Bush’s father, 15 years ago, had only sealed and secured the border and begun to deport illegals, his son and Rove would not be facing the seemingly insoluble problem the GOP is presented with today.
Either Bush and Rove secure the border now, or we can kiss the GOP goodbye.