Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Romney, The Hispanic Vote and the Capital-ocracy

Bernd Debusmann raises an interesting point in his latest Reuters column: Does the VP selection of Paul Ryan mean that GOP presidential candidate Romney has conceded the so-called Latino vote?

Put aside the usual caveats — that voting blocs are usually more complicated than we assume, that they are motivated by single interests and swayed by personality and tribalism — and Debusmann makes a convincing case Ryan is perhaps the least likely to help with Latinos "Of all the potential running mates Romney could have picked from."

There has been plenty said about the importance of the Hispanic vote independent of the veepstakes during this endless campaign, but very little analysis about Ryan in this context since his VP candidacy was announced Saturday morning.

The "Hispanic vote" looms large in electoral analysis. Bush garnered more than 40% of the Hispanic vote in his 2004 win, but John McCain only 31% in his 2008 loss. Both showings were considered strong contributing factors to the outcomes. As asserted by Aaron Blake in the Washington Post, "Republicans’ problem is epitomized by rapid Latino growth in five swing states and three Republican-dominated states that Democrats are hoping to put in play in coming elections." Republicans are identified with such things as Mexican border fences and "show me your papers" laws. Hispanics are disappointed with Obama's mixed record.

There was an opening here.

The trouble is that, as tepid as Hispanics might be towards Obama, a Republican presidential candidate has to shake off an association with outright hostility. But Romney has done nothing to distance himself from the GOP meme, and has even exacerbated it with talk of self-deportation.

Former Reagan aide Linda Chavez has argued that Romney needs to cultivate the Latino constituency by supporting the Dream Act (he has not taken the advice). Chavez titled her argument "Romney's Best Bet." But a VP choice Hispanics could rally behind would have had a much greater impact on the election than a policy shift easily portrayed as politically expedient, yet again.

Which is Debusmann's point.

I appreciate the argument, and from a net-neutral POV it is pretty obvious that Ryan does nothing to endear the GOP ticket to Latinos. But look at it another way: Romney's choice is based on ideology, rather than pander or electoral map politics: He has picked a soul-mate, rather than a stranger (McCain/Palin) or someone he detests (JFK/Lyndon Johnson) or someone who seems to have more gravitas (Dukakis/Lloyd Bentsen).

Ryan does nothing to help Romney with the Hispanic vote, but maybe nobody could have. In the known universe of Republican VP prospects nobody stands out except for Marco Rubio. But his conservative Tea Party convictions are probably out of the Hispanic mainstream. And for a little bit of perceived upside choosing the junior senator from Florida could easily have been criticized as not only a pander to lock up a swing state, but a foolhardy one in the tradition of such miscalculations as Dan Quayle (the youth vote) and Palin (disappointed woman supporters of Hillary Clinton).

Ryan's electoral weakness is thus his greatest strength: He is a Member of Congress, which collectively has a 12% approval rating, and represents only a small portion of a state which has voted for the Democrat in every presidential election since 1988.

The positive spin is that Ryan is an intellectually honest selection, consistent with a core Romney principals: A rising tide lifts all boats, and allowing those with greatest means to keep more of their money de facto leads to a stronger economy which benefits everyone.

As Debusmann notes, Romney was well aware of the "doom" that might befall his candidacy without a sizable portion of the Hispanic vote. But given no real options to get a voting block or a swing state Ryan can at least be better (read, more comfortable) at making the case for governing based on the primacy of capitalism.

Ryan could evolve into Romney's Biden, similarly unhampered by constituency baggage: Able to bang the table and connect with an audience in a way his boss can't.

The difference is that Obama is likely proud of most of the things he's done and stands for. Romney, on the other hand, is tried to avoid detailed talk about his accomplishments because they demonstrate a political evolution that has nothing do with principal and everything to do with winning.

And you can't really blame a good capitalist for that.