Electing a New People
DEMOGRAPHY is destiny in American politics. This point was made brilliantly almost exactly thirty years ago, by Kevin Phillips in The Emerging Republican Majority (1968). In the shadow of the Democrats’ long-dominant “Roosevelt coalition,” and amid the wreckage and recrimination of the disastrous Goldwater defeat, Phillips boldly predicted a generation of Republican victories based on the persistent but dynamic pattern of ethnic politics. He has been triumphantly vindicated.
But the Republican hour is rapidly drawing to a close. Not because the “Phillips Coalition” of the West and the South, of the middle class and urban blue-collar voters, is breaking up in the traditional manner. Instead, it is being drowned—as a direct result of the 1965 Immigration Act, which ironically became effective in the year Phillips’s book was published. Nine-tenths of the immigrant influx is from groups with significant—sometimes overwhelming—Democratic propensities. After thirty years, their numbers are reaching critical mass. And there is no end in sight.
To estimate the future impact of Immigration, we took the 1988 presidential race, in which George Bush beat Michael Dukakis with 53 per cent of the vote. This figure happens also to be the average vote received by the Republicans in presidential elections since 1968—the largest advantage won by any party over any six elections in American history. And it is the vote received by Republicans in 1994, when they took control of the Senate and House. It can reasonably be regarded as the Republican high-water mark.
Then we lowered this high-water mark by accounting for the shifting ethnic balance that the Census projects will result from immigration, assuming that the ethnic groups continued to vote as they did in 1988. The results are startling: [SEE TABLE]. Even if the Republicans can again win their 1988 level of support in each ethnic group—which they have miserably failed to do against Bill Clinton—they have at most two presidential cycles left. Then they go inexorably into minority status, beginning in 2008.
Indeed, looking at the electorate in this cold-eyed Phillipsian way suggests a reinterpretation of recent history. On this reading, America turned to the Republicans, not because it was convinced by the compelling logic of free-market economics and the capital gains tax cut, but because the Democratic Party “tipped,” like a housing project. Amazingly, no Democratic presidential nominee has received a majority of the white vote since 1948, with the aberrational exception of Lyndon B. Johnson. As liberal commentators Tom and Mary Edsall pointed out in their book Chain Reaction, whites seem to have left a party that they perceived as becoming alien and even hostile to them.
This caused a seismic shift to the Republicans, which is still not complete. But if whites fled the Democratic Party, it is now coming after them. In the years to come, the new Democratic trend will overwhelm the old Republican one—assuming mass immigration continues.
Any projections of this kind, of course, are problematical. We have necessarily made drastic assumptions. We assume that the Asian and Hispanic voting rate increases—but only to that of blacks, which seems reasonable. We assume that the Republican share of the Hispanic vote remains low—but we also assume near-parity in the Asian vote, which, given the hard-left “Asian” leadership now emerging on the campuses, especially for Chinese, may be optimistic. We assume that Republicans do not increase their share of the white vote—but, since the current congressional leadership refuses to voice white concerns over such matters as immigration and affirmative action, this seems all too probable.
Whether our projections are too optimistic or pessimistic is ultimately irrelevant. The fundamental point, which does not seem to have dawned yet on the Beltway Right, remains the same: The trend is not our friend. In this perspective, the decision of congressional Republicans in 1996 to run away from the immigration cuts recommended by the bipartisan Jordan Commission can only be described as, well, brave.
There is much bluster, notably by the incorrigible Wall Street Journal editorial page, to the effect that the GOP can win more Hispanic votes. But at the very best this will be an uphill struggle. Hispanics do indeed move rightward the longer they remain in America. But this effect is canceled out by newly arrived immigrants who overwhelmingly vote Democratic. Hence, directly because of immigration the GOP has never approached a majority of the Hispanic vote. And this shows no sign of changing any time soon.
The latest alleged portent: the laudable victory of Rev. Bill Redmond in the recent New Mexico special election for the House seat vacated by UN Ambassador Bill Richardson. A more careful reading of this result, however, leads (not for the first time) to the conclusion that immigration enthusiasts can’t count. The Republican vote, 42 per cent, was barely above its previous peak and well short of a majority. What happened was that the Democratic vote was split, by a former Democrat running as the candidate of New Mexico’s enviro-Stalinist Green Party, who got 17 per cent of the vote. This, and not a mass conversion of Hispanics, won the seat. Rep. Redmond will do well to hold it in 1998. [PB 2000 note: he did not]
In fact, the New Mexico race does presage the future, albeit in ways unforeseen by the Wall Street Journal. It shows the power of independent candidates to hurt major-party candidates by splitting the vote—and immigration, as evidenced in countries as far apart as France and Australia, is pre-eminently an issue that, if ignored by establishment parties, provokes insurrection. Not coincidentally, the rumored Michigan candidacy of ophthalmologist Dr. John Tanton, the chairman of Federation for American Immigration Reform, against Republican Sen. Spencer Abraham has been getting front-page treatment in the state’s heavily Democratic media. [PB 2000 note: Tanton is apparently not running, but immigration reform groups' advertising against Abraham has got his supporters in the national press huffing and puffing.] Other such single-issue candidacies are being mentioned—for example, a 1998 challenge to Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain by Robert D. Park, leader of the state’s successful Official English referendum campaign in 1988.
New Mexico may presage the future also in that the Democrats split—apparently a worldly Hispanic machine was pitted against Anglo leftist loonies. The vast complication of ethnic politics brought about by current immigration policy may, in the end, undermine both parties. Politics will presumably continue. But not American politics as we have known and loved it.
Maybe some supply-sider or neoconservative can get elected to something in 2050, borne along by a multicultural throng like Tarzan on a litter. But, as always with immigration—particularly since the National Academy of Sciences has confirmed that there is no significant aggregate economic benefit (See “The Week”)—the question must be: Why take the risk?