The weakness of Operation Gringo

Inspired by the recent right-wing attacks on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, Nate Silver and Andrew Gelman have put together an excellent series of analyses that they’ve titled “Operation Gringo” (see here, here, and here). The basic theme of these posts is to determine, as the title of the initial one says, “can the republicans sacrifice the Hispanic vote and still win the White House”.

The posts are well worth reading, but I’ll summarize a few key points:

  • From an electoral vote perspective, Hispanics had almost no effect on the 2008 election, because states with high concentrations of Latino voters were mostly already decided one way or the other by Caucasian non-Hispanic voters.
  • A hard-line anti-immigration/anti-NAFTA style platform could win over enough white voters in enough states to win back the presidency, but…
  • They’d have to be careful not to go so far as to alienate the Cuban population in Florida, or the task becomes much more difficult.
  • There’s also the Texas dilemma (I’ll get to that later).

The analysis is very compelling, and looking at it bit by bit you can appreciate just how the right would be able to pick off enough Caucasian voters in swing states to offset the Hispanic votes they would lose in states they’re likely to lose anyways.

But I think there’s an aspect that Silver and Gelman aren’t factoring into their discussion, at least explicitly. They’re considering the white vote to be basically one-dimensional – in other words, the right could push this platform which would lose them the Hispanic vote without alienating any Caucasian voters. I’m not sure that’s true.

Given the attacks of the past couple weeks (and frankly from the general election as well), I think it’s becoming clear that the right is willing to go to extreme lengths beyond anything we’ve seen in recent memory to demonize their opponents. Overtones of racism aren’t considered an obstacle anymore to these attacks; if anything, they seem to be considered an enhancement to the argument, and this is becoming more and more obvious to the electorate.

And that’s where I think they’d be making a huge mistake to push this too far. In 2009, it’s not exactly considered a good thing to associate yourself with a group of racists. I have a feeling that, if they were to go through a strategy like this, many right-leaning independents, and perhaps even some moderate republicans, would decide that they’d had enough of the party and cross over to the Dem’s side.

Now, granted, this is assuming that anyone who would give up on the right because of this strategy hasn’t already done so, and that’s hard to quantify obviously. But I think this is a very real consideration that needs to be taken into account.

I do find it interesting that, during a time when the Obama administration is attempting to engage far-right groups like Focus on the Family and have substantive discussions with them on major issues (and also attempt to sway a few voters from a reliably republican voting bloc), the only option that republicans seem to have – or at least have an interest in – is to write off entire segments of the population. You’d think a party that 89% of its self-identified voters are Caucasian non-Hispanic would have an interest in expanding its voter base. That doesn’t seem to be the case here.

There's one final observation that Silver touches on, and that's the Texas issue. If you've been looking closely, you've noticed that Texas, ever so slightly, is becoming bluer. Not a lot, but little by little it's changing. The Hispanic percentage of the population is steadily increasing, and the republican party there is pretty insane. It's not really winable in 2012, but if things are going well and an Obama re-election is likely, I might put some serious resources into Texas to lay the groundwork for 2016 or 2020.

Again, if the right takes it too far, this state (and also Arizona, though it's clearly less impactful) could become a swing state down the road. And if that happens, the republicans are done. There's no way they'll ever get the presidency back. I defy anyone to show me a winning electoral map that concedes New York, California, and Texas. You can't go into an election knowing that the other party is already halfway to victory before the day even starts.

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