It shouldn’t be entirely surprising that Sen. Rand Paul’s speech Tuesday morning to a Hispanic group called for comprehensive immigration reform. (If he made that speech at a tea-party meeting, that would be more interesting.) But illegal immigration is a part of him. His namesake, Ayn Rand, was herself an illegal immigrant, lying to get a tourist visa to escape Bolshevik persecution. Aside from the libertarian lodestar, free markets, free minds, and (pretty) free borders is a libertarian mantra.
In his speech, Paul made the now-standard case for more border security and a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants: “If you wish to live and work in America, then we will find a place for you.” He also made the well-worn argument that Republicans are permanent losers if they don’t win more Hispanic votes. Like others, he sees Hispanics as natural Republicans but for the immigration issue.
But all of the polling data suggest otherwise. The Pew Research Center notes, “Latinos have often been characterized as more socially conservative than most Americans. On some issues, such as abortion, that’s true. But on others, such as acceptance of homosexuality, it is not. When it comes to their own assessments of their political views, Latinos, more so than the general public, say their views are liberal.” It’s telling that when asked if they backed President Obama’s position that “health insurance organizations should be required to cover contraception,” 68 percent of Hispanics said yes; only 11 percent said no.
As I noted this week in National Journal, Hispanics favor more expansive government, not Paul’s pinched libertarian vision of Washington’s responsibilities:
But it’s on the question of big government that Hispanics stand most solidly with Democrats. The 2011 Pew Hispanic Center survey asked Latinos whether they would “pay higher taxes to support a larger government or pay lower taxes and have a smaller government”? Hispanics backed higher taxes and more government by 75 percent to 19 percent. For the population as a whole, 48 percent favored smaller government to 41 percent wanting big government. Even Obama’s top political adviser, David Plouffe, echoes the sentiment: “The bigger problem [Republicans have] got with Latinos isn’t immigration,” Plouffe told Time. “It’s their economic policies and health care. The group that supported the president’s health care bill the most—Latinos.” The coup de grace comes when Hispanics are asked to cite their top priority. Only 12 percent said immigration; half chose the economy and jobs—where they stand with Democrats.
You can make a strong humanitarian and policy argument for immigration reform and a path to citizenship. But it’s harder to make the political argument. Republicans may not have much choice as noted by the RNC’s venimos en paz report that the party regulars are touting. But the idea that immigration reform is going to make Hispanics flock to the GOP seems dubious — it will take more than cosmetic touches, such as better Hispanic outreach, to really make a difference.
It’s true that George W. Bush did well with Hispanics and maybe — maybe — the Republicans can get some of that mojo back even as they still ignore Bush himself. But Hispanics are younger and bluer than they were in 2000. Younger Cuban-Americans are trending Democratic. It’s not at all clear Bush would do as well today. After all, Ronald Reagan passed immigration reform and no benefit accrued to Republicans. John McCain was the author of immigration reform and he only got 31 percent of Hispanics compared to Mitt Romney’s 27 percent. It’s true that new polling shows Hispanics say they’re more likely to be open to pro-pathway candidates. Still, maybe Paul will become a Hispanic icon. But that seems as likely as a run on Spanish editions of Atlas Shrugged.