I think I have enough knowledge of Lowry and Kristol’s views on the Republican Party’s prospects to say, quite emphatically, that this isn’t at all “what they really mean.” What they do mean is that it makes much more sense for the G.O.P. to think about its political problems in terms of class and economics rather than ethnicity, and for the party’s leaders to first attack its economic vulnerabilities — particularly the perception, often earned, that the party has nothing to offer wage-earning Americans — rather than starting with an issue, immigration, that has the potential to just highlight the G.O.P.’s disconnect from voter priorities, and confirm the impression that the party’s Wall Street wing calls all the shots. The core of the Lowry-Kristol thesis isn’t that the G.O.P. should necessarily resign itself to a Romney-esque performance among Hispanics in 2016 and beyond; it’s that a conservative party with an appealing, populist-inflected economic agenda will ultimately probably win more white votes and more Hispanic votes (and, for that matter, black votes and Asian votes) than a conservative party whose idea of rebranding is just a headlong rush to put President Obama’s signature on an immigration bill.
This is also the point suggested by the recent argument, marshaled by Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics and amplified by others, that it makes as much sense to see the G.O.P.’s 2012 defeat as a reflection of the party’s failure to woo Perot-ish, downscale, disaffected white voters as it does to just pin Romney’s defeat on demographic changes and anti-anti-immigration backlash. Liberals have portrayed this thesis as an argument that the Republicans should just double down on their existing, largely white base, but that’s not the sensible implication of what Trende is saying. Rather, it’s that many of his “missing white voters” are the lowest-hanging fruit for a party trying to rebuild itself, and that the kind of populist arguments that resonate with that constituency might actually offer the Republicans a better chance with minority voters in the longer run as well.
The Immigration Bill and the Republican Future