If the Supreme Court rejects the Obama administration’s challenge to the Arizona immigration law, the ruling would be widely viewed as a victory for the Republican Party, whose leadership spearheaded the law in the state and championed its spirit nationwide.
But at what cost?
Vindicating Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigration could embolden other Republican-led states to pass similarly tough laws -- as Georgia, Utah, Indiana, Arizona, and South Carolina have already done – and further the perception that the GOP is hostile to immigrants, and indirectly, to the Hispanic community.
That would put the party on the wrong side of demographics. Hispanics comprise the fastest growing share of the U.S. electorate and wield the power to swing elections in key battleground states, including Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Virginia. These states helped put Obama in the White House and will determine the majority party for decades to come.
(RELATED: The Making of an Immigration Deal?)
“For the long-term political health of the Republican Party, it’s absolutely critical that we do substantially better among Hispanic voters,’’ said GOP pollster Whit Ayres, who has done surveys on immigration issues. “Numbers don’t lie, and the numbers are clear: The percent of the electorate that is white is declining -- and declining rapidly. If we had the demographics in this country in 2008 that we had that we had in 1980, John McCain would be president of the United States.’’
The percentage of the electorate that is white has fallen from 88 percent under Ronald Reagan to 74 percent when the first African-American president was elected. Ayres added,“We’re not talking about differences at the margins. We’re talking about fundamentally different electoral outcomes.’’
(PICTURES: Stakeholders in the Ariz. Case)
No wonder, as polls show Romney lagging behind Obama among Hispanic voters, the presumptive Republican nominee has started to retreat from the hard line against illegal immigration that he took in the primary campaign. He recently told supporters at a fundraiser in Florida that the Republican Party needs to come up with its own version of the Dream Act, which would offer citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants who enroll in college or the military. In another sign that Romney is worried about his image with Hispanics, his campaign pushed back on the perception that he praised the Arizona law in a nationally televised debate earlier this year, insisting last week that he was referring to the state’s electronic database for employers to check legal status.