House Republicans are struggling with possible compromises, which might include eventual legal residency for such immigrants, but not citizenship. Obama supporters say that’s an unworkable solution.
Many Republicans hope Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, can lead their party out of the immigration jam. He backs a plan that could lead to citizenship for illegal immigrants, but only after more stringent conditions, including a high level of border security.
Some Republicans also are pushing Rubio for president. His candidacy might tug Hispanic emotions in many directions, given his heritage and strong tea party ties.
Democratic strategist Doug Thornell says that if Republicans are to attract a bigger share of Hispanic and black voters, they must do more than nominate a Cuban-American and grudgingly let an immigration overhaul occur.
Republicans “have no roots or connections in either community,” Thornell said. He said minority voters associate Republicans with hard-right firebrands such as Rush Limbaugh, and heard GOP presidential candidates in 2012 talk of “self-deportation” and other terms that some felt were denigrating to Hispanics in general.
“It’s shortsighted to believe that if immigration reform is done, somehow Republicans are going to cleanse themselves of openly hostile language that has been directed at Hispanics,” Thornell said. Moreover, he said, blacks and Hispanics were deeply offended by Republican-led efforts to limit voting opportunities in Florida and other states.
A recent Time magazine cover called Rubio the “Republican Savior.” Even Rubio, however, plays down the potential for an immigration overhaul to heal the party’s ailments.
“If anyone is under the illusion that suddenly our percentage of Hispanic voters will double, let me dissuade them,” Rubio told the magazine. Many Hispanic Americans, he said, “have bought into the lie the left is putting out there that because we want to enforce immigration laws, we’re not welcoming.”
Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee who did slightly better among Latino voters than 2012 nominee Mitt Romney did, says Hispanics pose a big challenge and opportunity for Republicans.
“We are losing dramatically the Hispanic vote, which we think should be ours, for a variety of reasons,” McCain recently told ABC’s “This Week.”
Thornell says Republicans face “a long-term project” to attract Hispanics to their side, and he doubts they’ll succeed. If they agree to immigration law changes for political reasons, Thornell said, “it’ll look like pandering.”