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The dangerous game of demographic change: Reagan’s lost bet on Hispanics

Engineering an electoral success with demographic changes does not necessarily pay off. Ask the Republican Party in California.The legacy of Ronald Reagan’s presidencies in the 80s is rather divisive: Republicans consider him the hero that defeated the Soviet Empire, leading the US to an era of prosperity and optimism; Democrats on the other hand regard him as an uneducated simpleton, who curb-stomped workers’ rights, ushered in the era of neoliberalism (to which they have by now converted entirely) and if he succeeded in anything it was merely by luck.

There is something, however, that Democrats can thank him for and Republicans should blame him for: turning California blue (i.e. democratic) forever. The IRCA (Immigration Reform and Control Act) of 1986 regularized illegal immigrants who had entered the country before 1982, provided that they could prove a degree of knowledge of the English language, American history and political institutions. The estimated number of illegal immigrants benefiting from this amnesty is approximately 3 million.1)Ronald Reagan on immigration, On the issues.

 

“Latinos are Republicans, they just don’t know it yet”

It was one of the many slogans Ronald Reagan is popular for, now taking on seriously negative overtones. His reasoning was rather simple: Hispanics tend to be overwhelmingly Catholic, hence they share the Republican focus on family, religion (albeit not Protestant) and tradition. Courting Hispanics has become a priority since Reagan’s first term. As the New York Times wrote in 1983, Republican “strategists have concluded that the Hispanic vote is not only essential to President Reagan’s re-election chances in 1984, if he should run, but is also vital to the future of the party itself” 2)Courting Hispanic Voters now a Reagan Priority, New York Times 1983-05-19. and indeed it seemed it was starting to pay off. In the 1984 election, for Reagan’s second term, the Hispanic vote tipped the scales in his favour, although he failed to win the majority of them.

 

Reagan’s mistake: history counts, all of it

“Hispanic” or alternatively “Latino” is a term broadly used from immigrants coming from Central and South America. The area (with Brazil being the biggest notable exception) formerly belonged to the Spanish Empire (hence the term Hispanic), which is why Spanish is either the inhabitants’ primary or official language. Ethnically, they are predominantly a mix between Spanish colonists and pre-colonial locals. In this respect, the differences between a Mexican, a Cuban or an Argentinian are not huge. Post-colonial history, however, is. Cuba became a Communist dictatorship under Fidel Castro, Mexico did not. So Cuban escapees arriving in Florida bring with them a memory of socialist repression and thus often do not like Democrat candidates leaning too much to the left, whereas Mexicans arriving in Texas or California do not, and are thus more open to government intervention in the economy.

 

Goodbye California

It is important to note that the Hispanic population in California had been rising long before Reagan’s presidency. Reagan’s reform did not increase Hispanic immigration, but by regularizing illegals, he paved for them the way for becoming voters. As the demographic shift has continued towards today’s Latino majority, Republicans could lose California for good. The last time a Republican presidential candidate won California was G.H.W Bush, Reagan’s successor in 1988, while the gap between Democrat and Republican candidates within the Latino voters remained wide.

 

 

Source: National Review.

 

The political suicide of Republicans in the Golden State is even more evident if we consider that before the general amnesty, California had been voting Republican for decades. California is also rather large in terms of population and area, yielding 55 electoral college votes for the presidential race, which is more than any other US state. Ronald Reagan effectively gifted to Democrats the state that has the biggest impact in collecting electoral colleges for the US presidency. The model is so successful for Democrats that they have been since trying to implement it on a national level. The “demographic destiny”, alternatively known as “white minority” scenario for the US, is regularly commended by Democrat leaning media, in an attempt to secure the US presidency for good, just like they did in California. The rise of identity politics as the main, if not the only, ideology of the Democratic party, according to which race, gender or sexual orientation entitle minorities to preferential treatment, also serves this purpose. By promising special treatment to Latinos, Democrats hope to consolidate their voting base. Similarly, in Europe, left-leaning parties have adopted this open-border and quick citizenship policy, hoping to replicate the collapse of the American Right in California.

 

The result fell short of their expectations, though: to begin with, Europeans are becoming increasingly distrustful with the Left when it comes to the problems caused by their open border policy. Recent elections in France, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic have seen left-leaning parties hemorrhaging consensus after consensus with European natives. Secondly, they are running the risk of repeating Ronald Reagan’s mistake. Reagan failed to understand that Mexicans are not socialism-hating Cubans, nor can they be turned into ones. Left-wingers fail to understand that the Africans and Asians coming to Europe are not Mexicans, nor can they be turned into ones. They might like government benefits and preferential treatment, but much less the LGBT agenda, still an integral part of identity politics. The Socialists in France and the Netherlands, once the largest parties, have been wiped off from the political map and to top it all in Amsterdam-West, one of the traditional social neighborhoods, DENK, the Dutch-Turkish party, became the biggest player.3)Nieuw-West stemt niet meer op de PvdA, maar op Denk, NRC 2017-03-17.

References   [ + ]

1. Ronald Reagan on immigration, On the issues.
2. Courting Hispanic Voters now a Reagan Priority, New York Times 1983-05-19.
3. Nieuw-West stemt niet meer op de PvdA, maar op Denk, NRC 2017-03-17.

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