Opinion

The Great Debate

For Biden, Mexico’s endless allure

Vice President Joe Biden recently canceled the Panama leg of his trip to Latin America, citing the need to be in Washington, focusing on Syria. He did not, however, cancel his visit to Mexico.

Biden arrived in Mexico late Thursday night and is due to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto, and kick off the U.S.-Mexico High Level Economic Dialogue (HLED). There were plenty of reasons for the vice president to stay home — including the brewing budget battle, and the shootings in Washington’s Navy Yard — in addition to Syria. So it is worth asking why he didn’t.

Biden had both political and economic reasons to visit Mexico. On the political front, he is seeking to strengthen his credibility with the businesses that can benefit from strengthened trade and investment with Mexico. But perhaps Biden’s most important reason is the power of Latino voters. The 2012 election made it clear that any viable Republican presidential candidate would need to win the support of close to 40 percent of Latino voters. President George W. Bush did this in 2004; Mitt Romney got 27 percent last year.

The corollary, of course, is that a Democrat needs around 60 percent of the Latino vote to win the White House. Should Biden decide to run in 2016, his credibility with Latino voters is likely to be strengthened by a focus on relations with Latin America in general and Mexico in particular — given that 63 percent of U.S. Latinos are either originally from Mexico or their families are. This is, in fact, the vice president’s second trip to Mexico, and third trip to Latin America, in a year.

On the economic front, Mexico’s new president has generated significant momentum with a flurry of reforms that promise to boost growth in the years ahead — and create opportunities for U.S. companies operating in the United States and Mexico. Even before taking office, President-elect Peña Nieto partnered with the party he ousted, the PAN, to pass a major labor law reform. This added flexibility to the labor market, making it easier for companies to hire and fire. Its provisions are also expected to improve productivity and worker protections.

The GOP’s immigration problem

Old vaudeville joke:

Man goes to the doctor.  Says he has a pain in his arm.

“Have you ever had this problem before?” the doctor says.

“Yes,” the man answers.

“Well, you got it again.”

Bada-bing.

Now look at the Republicans’ immigration problem. Have they had this problem before? Yes. Well, they’ve got it again.

Republicans had an immigration problem nearly 100 years ago. A huge wave of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe – Poles, Hungarians, Italians, Jews – came to this country during the first two decades of the 20th century, before strict national quotas were imposed in 1924. These immigrants were largely Catholic and Jewish.

Republicans were the party of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant establishment. The GOP did little to reach out to immigrants, except to try to “Americanize” them and “reform” them (the temperance movement).

Seeking consensus on immigration, guns

Two tough issues — immigration reform and gun control. “It won’t be easy,” President Barack Obama said about gun control in December, “but that’s no excuse not to try.”   Tuesday, he said about immigration reform: “The closer we get, the more emotional this debate is going to become.”

Which does he stand a better chance of winning?  Answer: immigration. On immigration, Obama has Democrats strongly behind him. Republicans are divided — and freaked out by the issue. On guns, he’s got Republicans strongly against him. Democrats are divided — and freaked out by the issue.

On both issues, the president has the public solidly behind him. That’s his biggest asset. “There’s already a growing consensus for us to build from,” he said on Dec. 19, five days after the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre. “A majority of Americans support banning the sale of military-style assault weapons.’’ On Jan. 29, when he went to Las Vegas to speak about immigration reform, he said, “A broad consensus is emerging and … a call for action can be heard coming from all across America.”

To see future electorate, look at California voters now

The changing face of the American electorate is etched all over the map of California. The Golden State may no longer be a partisan battleground, but it continues to be a reliable bellwether for the evolving national political landscape.

Even as President Barack Obama won a second term with an electorate that mirrored the demographic trends that have made California deep blue, Golden State voters chose to raise taxes to fund education and gave Democrats a two-thirds “supermajority” in both houses of the state legislature—meaning Democratic lawmakers will have the ability to raise taxes without a single Republican vote.

This willingness to increase taxes to pay for schools and other long-underfunded public services, coupled with California voters’ rejection of the GOP’s “no new taxes” mantra—up and down the ballot—could well echo across the nation, just as the passage of the state’s Proposition 13 ignited the anti-tax movement more than three decades ago.

Where Karl Rove was right

Give Karl Rove a break. His meltdown on election night may not have been entirely about Fox News prematurely calling Ohio for President Barack Obama. After all, the poor guy had every right to get upset while watching the Republican Party nominee’s campaign crash and burn.

For all intents and purposes, Mitt Romney trampled on Rove’s once vaunted GOP playbook — and leaves a weakened GOP in his wake.

Once upon a time, Rove had hoped to build a big-tent Republican Party that would be well-poised to capture the support of a rapidly diversifying America. He was the mastermind behind George W. Bush’s Latino strategy, first when Bush won reelection as Texas governor in 1998 and again when he campaigned for the presidency in 2000. In ’98 Bush became the first Republican gubernatorial candidate in Texas to win overwhelmingly Mexican-American El Paso County. Two years later, he won a respectable 35 percent of the Latino vote nationally.

The GOP’s hunt for Latino voters

Jon Huntsman suspended more than just his campaign this week. He also put an end to any hope the GOP had of making strides in the Latino community.

And despite the stereotypes, because of the Obama administration’s policies, there really was hope. The administration has increased the number of deportations to nearly 400,000 people a year since taking office, according to ABC News. Likewise, in Secretary Janet Napolitano’s annual report to Congress, she describes the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to be at “record highs.” President Obama’s first term has featured twice the number of deportations as George W. Bush’s by instituting a systematic approach to immigration enforcement not seen since the infamous days of “Operation Wetback,” a program in which President Dwight Eisenhower deported over a million Mexican nationals, among them American citizens.

One might think this would be an opportunity for the GOP to make inroads with the Latino community, but the Republicans seem confident they can sit idly by as Latinos simply run into their arms. The GOP claims economics are Latinos’ most important issue, but with over half of Hispanics within a generation of the immigrant experience, migration is also a profound issue (and one with profound economic consequences). And on that issue, most of the GOP candidates have done little to distinguish themselves.

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