The recent news regarding President Obama’s support in the Latino community is quite amazing. In the 2008 election, Obama won 67% of their votes. But his support among Latinos has now slipped below 50% — 49%, to be exact, in a recent Gallup Poll. Why the slippage, and what does it mean for coming elections?
One suspects that (in part) Obama’s remarkable loss of Latino support is of a piece with his loss of support among independent white voters. It has to do with broken promises, specifically, and a failure to deliver economic health, generally.
Consider independent white blue-collar voters. Running for office, Obama played the role of Post-Racial Man. He insinuated that he understood white workers' anger at racial preferences in college admissions, hiring, and promotions. When it was discovered that he was a long-standing member of a “black liberation theology” church, he feigned ignorance and dropped out of church.
But in office, he has pushed race preferences with a vengeance, appointing two unabashed Quota Queens to the Supreme Court. And Obama's attorney general, Eric Holder, has seemed to many to be racially biased in the way he has handled several issues, such as the case against the Black Panthers who were charged with voter intimidation in a lawsuit filed in 2009 by the Justice Department.
The point here is that when someone has little record in office and a mainstream media completely supportive of — nay, sycophantic toward — him, he can portray himself as anything he cares to look like. But once in office, he will have to make choices, and those choices will then define him.
In his campaign for Latino votes, Obama cleverly played the part of the Universal Minority Man, a victim-just-like-you kind of guy, promising to listen to Latinos in a way that the hate-filled nativists on talk radio could never do. He would solve the seemingly intractable problem of immigration, and open the doors to everybody who wanted to come in.
In doing so, he deliberately obscured some issues that would have troubled Latinos, had he spoken openly about them.
For one thing, he never revealed to Latino audiences that as senator he did virtually nothing to help Bush and McCain get their compromise comprehensive immigration reform bill through Congress. It came close to passing but died under a firestorm of populist anger, fanned by the “talkerati,” the conservative talk-show hosts. In fact, Obama voted for an amendment to strip the legislation of its temporary worker visa program, thus helping to scuttle the bill. It isn’t clear why he did that. Part of the reason had to be an attempt to curry favor with those in organized labor and in his own ethnic community who are fearful of more workers coming in.
This last point touches another topic Obama sidestepped during his campaign: African-American antipathy toward Latinos. In many segments of the African-American community, there is a deep resentment of Latinos. Latinos are seen as competing for many of the same jobs that African-Americans want to get, as well as for the same space in the same neighborhoods. Even more galling, Latino activists are viewed as pushing their own “victimhood” narrative, which dilutes the spoils of the victim status that African-American activists have taken for granted for decades.
After all, affirmative action — usually a euphemism for hiring a less qualified “minority” over a white or Asian male — is obviously more beneficial to African-Americans if “minority” means only “African-American” than if it means “African-American, Latino, Pacific Islander, Native American, Asian woman, white woman, or GLBT.”
In office, Obama has given Latinos more reasons to become disenchanted with him.
For example, Obama — who, to be fair, had signaled during his campaign that he held NAFTA to blame for costing American jobs (a stance that cost him the primary election in Texas against Hillary Clinton, whose husband had signed NAFTA into law) — started a trade war with Mexico the minute he got into office.
Yes, the newly elected Obama decided to throw a bone to the Teamsters union (which had supported him lavishly in his campaign) by denying even a small number of Mexican truckers the right to drive American routes, on a trial basis — a right given to them by NAFTA. The president didn’t just stiff the truckers; his supporters spread the nasty story that Mexican truckers are inferior drivers and that Mexican trucks are all unsafe, even though under the earlier agreement, those trucks would be constantly monitored.
Mexico was rightly furious and retaliated by slapping massive tariffs on a wide range of American products, especially agricultural ones. These tariffs cost upwards of 25,000 American jobs, many of them held by Latinos. So an act intended to hurt Mexican workers wound up hurting Mexican-American ones far more.
Then there was Obama’s conspicuous failure to deliver on comprehensive immigration reform. For two years his party completely controlled Congress, and could easily have passed — probably with bipartisan support — a reasonable reform bill. But Obama showed no particular interest in the topic; much less did he push any such bill through Congress, in the way he rammed through Obamacare. In fact, he didn’t even push the Dream Act through Congress when he controlled it. This, unlike his earlier, covertly obstructive actions regarding the Bush-McCain legislation, Latinos noticed, because now he was president.
While Bush tried his best to get an immigration reform bill through a Congress he couldn’t control, Obama never tried to do the same when he virtually owned Congress.
Of course, when the Republicans won back the House of Representatives last year, Obama tried floating the narrative that he desperately wanted comprehensive immigration reform, but the Rascally Racist Republicans were in the way. He taunted the Republicans in a speech before a primarily Latino audience in El Paso in May of this year, saying that when the Republicans were urging him to protect the border, they were being disingenuous and silly: “Maybe they’ll need a moat. . . . Maybe they’ll want alligators in the moat.” But the stark reality facing Latinos is that while Bush tried his best to get a deal through a Congress he couldn’t control, Obama never tried to do the same when he virtually owned Congress.
Other major reasons for Obama’s loss of Latino support are his two major policy changes on the handling of undocumented workers, both of which have produced large unintended, and unfavorable, consequences.
The first concerns companies that employ illegal aliens. In 2009, Obama’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) department started aggressively auditing companies to see if they hired undocumented workers, and severely punishing companies that did. That is, Obama had his myrmidons deliberately transfer to business the burden of securing the border. If ICE catches a company employing illegal aliens, the company is subject to heavy fines and sanctions, while the workers go free.
This essentially reversed the policy of prior presidents, which had been to deport illegal aliens when caught, but not necessarily punish the companies employing them (unless there was specific evidence of intent to employ illegals). No doubt Obama’s decision grew out of his instinctive, visceral animosity toward business, as well as his desire to regulate and control it.
However, this policy has bitten deep, as ICE has hammered employers it considers “magnets” for illegal workers. Companies like American Apparel (in 2009) and Chipotle Grill (in 2010) got hit hard, with ICE looking especially closely at companies in the agricultural, construction, food processing, and restaurant sectors. And there are a lot of these companies — nearly 2,400 were targeted last year alone.
The fines have often been brutal. One company, Yamato Engine Specialists, had to pay a $100,000 fine — for employing a couple of dozen undocumented workers. American Apparel had to pay $35,000, not to mention losing one fourth of its work force.
In this policy as in most of his others, Obama sought a dramatic increase in the regulation and control of private industry. Immigration activists — who are typically ardent leftists with a deep-seated aversion to business — originally supported it. But they quickly learned a lesson in the law of unintended consequences. Employers dumped a lot of illegal aliens who, yes, weren’t deported. However, that in turn meant that while those workers by and large remained in America, they also that they had to take worse jobs or remain unemployed — displeasing both the undocumented workers and the pro-immigration activists. And the businesses targeted now have a powerful reason to avoid hiring any Latinos, which has got to displease Latinos generally.
No doubt Obama’s decision grew out of his instinctive, visceral animosity toward business, as well as his desire to regulate and control it.
The other policy change regarding the treatment of illegals is one that Obama's Homeland Security Department has been implementing since 2008. It's the Secure Communities Program, “S-Comm” for short. When local or state police arrest anyone, they run the suspect’s fingerprints through the FBI criminal database to see if he has a criminal history. Under S-Comm, the cases in which an illegal alien has been arrested and looks as if he may have a criminal background are sent to the DHS so ICE can determine whether this person should be deported. In the past, states could choose to participate in the program if they wished, but now it is becoming mandatory for all states. The idea of S-Comm is to prioritize deportations, so that convicted criminals are deported first.
ICE head John Morton has said that 90% of those deported over the last two years — nearly 400,000 per year — have been either criminals or people who had earlier been ordered to leave the country.
But there have been a number of bad unintended consequences. Start with the fact that 28% of those deported under S-Comm actually had no criminal records. Some had just gotten traffic tickets. S-Comm has clogged the immigration courts, as people wrongly nabbed fight to keep from being deported, which often means a breakup of a family. Worse, many of the non-criminals were picked up on the database check not because they themselves had criminal histories but because they had worked with the police in a criminal investigation (as witnesses or informants). Thus S-Comm discourages cooperation with police in solving serious crimes.
Yet another major reason Latinos are abandoning Obama is the high unemployment rate among their population (which typically has lower than average unemployment rates), because of Obama’s baleful economic policies. Nationally, while the general unemployment rate is about 9%, Latino unemployment is at 11% — or about a fourth again higher than the country as a whole. It has not escaped the notice of Latinos that Mexico now has a much lower unemployment rate (at 4.9%) and a much higher economic growth rate (at 4–5% annually) than the United States. It is almost insufferably rich that California has lost about 300,000 illegal immigrants since Obama took office, with many of them moving back to Mexico, where they report that it is easier to buy a home and send their kids to college.
One last reason for the drop in Obama’s support among Latinos should be noted. This one is harder to quantify precisely, but in my view is still immensely important. Latinos culturally are extremely enterprising and entrepreneurial. While they attend college at lower rates than Asians and whites, they run small businesses at a disproportionately higher rate than the population as a whole.
But Obamanomics has been especially pernicious when it comes to the formation and flourishing of small businesses. Regulations that are merely onerous to big businesses (with their large accounting departments and access to legal power) are death to small ones, because they find it harder to absorb or pass along the costs. And the essence of Obamanomics is the dramatic increasing of regulations of every sort.
The news of the collapse of support among Latinos has obviously rocked the White House. It has recently taken steps to reverse or mitigate its earlier policies, obviously wishing to recover that support.
First there was Obama’s complete capitulation, two months ago, in the trade war he started with Mexico. Bluntly put, the great American-Mexican trade war ended not with a bang but with an Obama whimper. Under a deal signed in July, Mexican truckers will be allowed to drive American routes. As soon as the first Mexican truck is allowed entry, Mexico will end its tariffs completely.
Obama must have calculated that the labor support he would lose by throwing the Teamsters under the bus — or more exactly, the truck — was a sacrifice he would have to make to help regain his standing in a crucial ethnic group.
Second, and seemingly out of the blue, the White House recently announced that it is changing its policies on handling illegal immigrants. It now will review the cases of 300,000 illegal aliens awaiting deportation and allow those who are not criminals or threats to public safety to remain here. While the administration portrayed this as a way for federal agencies to better their focus on real security threats, the claim was clearly a rationalization.
Obama’s difficulties with Hispanic voters offer the Republican Party an extremely rare and important opportunity to reshape American electoral politics for generations to come. It is clear that there is a demographic shift under way, with the percentage of Latinos in the population rising. If the GOP can start to split that vote more evenly with the Democrats, or perhaps to win the majority of it, the GOP will be well served.
Obama must have calculated that the labor support he would lose by throwing the Teamsters under the bus was a sacrifice he would have to make to help regain his standing in a crucial ethnic group.
This requires two things at least. For one, the Republican Party needs to learn to play ethnic politics better. It needs to actively groom and advance lots of conservative Latino political leaders. It has made a modest start, offering a number of impressive politicians, including Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Ted Cruz of Texas, Brian Sandoval of Nevada, and most prominently Marco Rubio of Florida. But the Republicans are going to need many dozens of such leaders at all political levels.
Parenthetically, knowing that Obama has now got to fight for the Latino vote, Marco Rubio is more compelling than ever as a choice for Vice President by whomever wins the Republican nomination for President next year.
But even more importantly, the Republican Party has to come to some kind of reasonable agreement on immigration reform. Put together a compromise solution of wide appeal, and build it into the party platform. The GOP needs to get this incubus off of itself for good. If that displeases some of the more nativist talkerati, so be it. One such host — who ran parodies such as “Jose, Can You See” and talked about “another stupid Mexican coming across the border” — without doubt cost the GOP enormously in several states where those comments were played in Democratic campaign ads. That is not the sort of person to whom the GOP needs to cater.
The talkerati are after higher ratings, and will try to get them by spewing whatever populist clap-trap they think will appeal to their listeners. But the GOP needs to position itself for the future, and can do so if it can finally get real about ethnic politics and immigration policy.