The Conservative Action Political Conference has just concluded in D.C., with its Beltway Rightmanagement suppressing the immigration issue as usual, but amid another blaze of naive grass-roots enthusiasm.
Republican confidence heading toward the 2010 Congressional elections is, at the moment, high.
But the party's long-term prospects rest upon demographic fundamentals that party strategists are afraid (see above) to discuss in public.
The most useful examples for thinking about the GOP's future are the two superstates:
McCain beat Obama 55-44 in Texas, by winning 73-26 among white voters.
Two new articles discuss immigration and elections, with particular relevance to Texas and California.
Needless to say, they all agree that the GOP needs to let in more Hispanics for them to purport to represent.
In contrast, in the Center For Immigration Studies' just-released study
For example, strange as it may seem now, Ronald Reagan won 50.2 percent in huge Los Angeles County in 1980 (versus 50.7 percent nationally in a three-man race with Jimmy Carter and John Anderson). Yet John McCain couldn't reach 29 percent in a two-man contest in LA County—whose foreign-born percentage, not coincidentally, has increased over those years from 22 to 41 percent.
Even more worrisomely for GOP strategists should be their decline in Texas's top two counties, from 58 percent for Reagan to 49 percent for McCain in Houston's Harris County (now 25 percent immigrant) and from 59 percent to 42 percent in Dallas County (27 percent immigrant).
The Republican drop-offs were less precipitous in 13 percent foreign-born Tarrant County (Fort Worth) and in 11 percent immigrant Bexar County (San Antonio).
Nationally, Gimpel finds in large counties a 0.58 percentage point drop in Republican share of the vote for every point the foreign-born share of the populace goes up.
In Texas, the effect size is even bigger: a 0.67 point fall.
Compared to California, the large-scale immigrant influx into Texas is fairly recent. The 1980 Census found that while 22.3 percent of Los Angeles County's residents were foreign-born, Texas's four biggest urban counties ranged from only 3.6 percent in Tarrant to 8.4 percent in Harris.
If the GOP is in long-term decline in Dallas and Harris counties (which have 6.4 million residents between them), my hunch is that it's in trouble all over Texas.
In 1980, I met on a train through Italy a couple of English soccer hooligans who were headed for a post-match riot in Turin. When they asked where I was from, I replied, "Houston", where I had just graduated from college. They had never heard of Houston, so I suggested "Dallas" as a reasonable approximation.
"Who shot J.R.?" the yobs exclaimed in happy unison.
By 1980, Houston's Harris County was the third most populous in America, and the downtown business district had sprouted the most outlandish skyline west of the Mississippi (although Dallas wasn't far behind).
Unsurprisingly, except apparently to the banks, oil prices eventually came down and the Texas bubblepopped. Yet the modern Republican Party's state electorate was forged in the 1970s. In contrast to the housing boom of the last decade in California, in Texas back then construction wasn't considered"a job Americans just wouldn't [or shouldn't] do." Nor was it yet universally assumed by the Establishment that high wages for American workers were an evil to be fought at all cost.
Back in the 1970s, strong demand bid up workers' wages in Texas. That lured in large numbers of American workers to Texas from the declining cities of the Rust Belt. Although American newcomers to Texas in the 1970s typically came from places where the Democrats had ruled at least since FDR, they joined with native Texans in trending Republican.
After voting for Carter in 1976, Texas went for Reagan in 1980 and hasn't wavered since. Texas kept the GOP viable at the national level when California, which voted for nine out of ten Republican Presidential candidates from 1952-1988, flipped Democratic.
Gimpel offers three reasons for why heavily immigrant counties have almost uniformly gone Democratic since 1980:
In the third quarter of the 20th Century, Southern California, with its ample room for development, had been the prime destination of Americans looking for a better life for their families. Strange as it seems now, Southern California became famous for its teeming hordes of white teenagers.
But as foreign immigration took off, Southern California began to fill up. Southern California housing prices surged from 1976 on and off for the next three decades.
Eastern Mexico had its own oil boom in the late 1970s. So back then there was, by recent standards, relatively limited illegal immigration into Texas (which had also long had a sizable Texican population, who appreciated the higher pay now available to them).
But by 1982, oil prices had tumbled, imposing a recession on Texas and a depression on Mexico. The 1980s flood of illegal aliens, and their subsequent post-Amnesty baby boom, focused upon California rather than Texas in the 1980s.
So Texas's big counties are now about as foreign-born as Southern California's were in the 1980s. And counting
Still, Texas's suburbs are less hemmed in by oceans and mountains than California's are, so a home and marriage are less likely to become as unaffordable so quickly.
I would add two more reasons to Gimpel's list of why immigration to urban counties hurts the GOP.
This suggests that immigration doesn't just move Republicans around the landscape, it deters them from developing, or, in some cases, from even being born.
Nationally, the GOP used to do reasonably well in populous counties. Gimpel reports:
"In 1980 the largest counties, in the aggregate, gave about half of their two-party vote to the Republicans (ranging from 56 percent for the 10 largest counties, to 48 percent in the 100 largest). … By 2008, however, the Republican two-party vote percentages at these locales hovered between 35 and 37 percent—in some cases a 20 percentage-point drop across the intervening election cycles."
Republicans can bluster that they don't need big counties and urban elites. But when driven out of urban areas by immigration, the GOP becomes less urbane. It loses role models. To be successful, a conservative party needs to appeal to people with the most to conserve.
Indeed, Columbia statistician Andrew Gelman pointed out in his 2008 book Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State that in Republican states, the GOP carries the people at the top of society. In Democratic states, that's less true.
For example, in 2008's Texas exit poll, McCain, a mediocre candidate at best, won 61 percent of those claiming postgraduate degrees, and 65 percent with six-figure incomes.
That's the mark of a dominant party. Each party likes to claim it's the party of the underdogs, but the truth is that voters in each state tend to take their lead, as is only natural, from their most successful fellow citizens.
In California, however, the GOP candidate garnered only 33 percent of those asserting an advanced degree and 42 percent of those making over $100,000.
The most populous counties are going to continue to be home to many of the most influential people. For Republican policy to be using mass immigration to make those places less congenial to Republicans—which is what it was during the Bush-McCain years—is, in a word, suicidal.
How long does the GOP have?
For several years, various Democrats have been predicting that demographic trends mean that Texas will flip Real Soon Now.
For example, Democratic consultant Michael Lux of Progressive Strategies noted in the Huffington Post:
"At the beginning, people in [Democratic] targeting meetings are always saying things like 'If you look at the demographics in Texas, it ought to be winnable' …
Anglos will be down to 52% of the adult population by 2010, and 49.99% – less than half – by 2012.
85% of the new adult citizens eligible to vote since 2002 are minorities, most of them Hispanics.
Barack Obama, who didn't spend a dime targeting Texas in the 2008 general election, lost Texas by about 950,000 votes. Between 2008 and 2012, there are projected to be 1.2 million additional eligible minority voters added to the population of the state."
But Democrats have a long history of being frustrated by erratic Hispanic turnout in Texas, especially in less glamorous midterm elections. Lux lamented:
"In 2008, Hispanics made up 32% of eligible voters in Texas, a number which will likely be about 35% by 2012, but they were only 20% of the electorate. In the 2006 off-year elections, while 45% of eligible Anglos voted, only 37% of African-Americans, 24% of Asian-Americans, and 25% of Hispanics voted."
Why are Texas Hispanics somewhat less liberal and perhaps even less politicized than California Latinos?
First, Texas Hispanics tend to have roots in the more business-friendly northeast of Mexico.
But second, in contrast to California, Texas has a self-confident conservative white Establishment that draws respect from Latino voters. Hispanics aren't oppositional blacks, whom Obama carried by a comic 98-2 margin in Texas, compared to 63-35 for Latinos. Black partisan voting behavior is often negatively correlated over time with trends among whites. But opportunistic Hispanics tend to follow the drifts of the white electorate, just much farther to the left on tax-and-spend issues.
Thirdly, white conservatives have done a decent job of running Texas. The cost of living and the cost of government remain relatively low, yet public school test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress are typically better in Texas for each ethnic group than in expensive California.
Finally, conservative voters placed a clever poison pill amendment in the Texas constitution in 1993 protecting the crown jewel of Texas policies, the absence of a state income tax. Even if the Democrats took control of the state legislature, an income tax would have to be approved by voters in an off-year referendum, when mostly whites show up to vote. That extra hurdle tends to discourage Democratic activists' greed. What's the point of going through all the toil of winning the legislature once, if the voters then have time to wake up and veto your handiwork?
This suggests that if Texas Republicans stay on top of their game, they can hold Texas for a few more election cycles.
In the long run, however, Texas is not at all immune from following California's path.
At VDARE.COM, we've been writing about the consequences of immigration for party realignment since we began ten years ago. Indeed, VDARE.COM editor Peter Brimelow wrote the first analysis, Electing A New People, with our National Data columnist Edwin S. Rubenstein, in the pre-purge National Review back in 1997. (For their update after the 2000 election, click here.)
In a nutshell, our proposed solution:
In the case of Texas, I've suggested that the impact of immigration could be palliated, at the national level, by allowing Texas to exercise its arcane right to split into five states. (Sailermandering Texas: What to Do While We're Waiting For Patriotic Immigration Reform, December 9, 2009)
In the long run, only an immigration moratorium can save Texas for the GOP —and for America.
[Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative. His websitewww.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog. His new book, AMERICA'S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA'S "STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is available here.]