Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Last Debate! (Oh Thank God!)

Arizona, the room allegedly packed full of Mormons1, was the battle-ground for the final debate of the primary. I think these debates have the same viewer-dynamic as NASCAR: people are watching hoping to see a crack-up. While there as nothing as stellar as Newt's rage-against-the-machine opening salvo there were some testy moments (The Daily Beast rounds up the best moments with clips).
Rick Santorum, left, and Mitt Romney talk following a Republican presidential debate Feb. 22,  in Mesa, Ariz. |AP Photo
Over all the feeling is that Santorum did not do well--and this was certainly a time when that would've helped him. However. Erck Erickson thinks that Santorum's focus on family cohesion and (contraception!?) can actually help him more than the press thinks!
I would caution the media on one thing — the Rick Perry Factor.
Back during the first debate, Rick Perry came under withering assault from Romney on social security as a ponzi scheme.
After the debate, the media consensus was that Rick Perry had been badly wounded, performed badly, and would be hurt by the social security issue.
His polling actually went up. Conservative voters actually embraced Perry doubling down on social security as a ponzi scheme. Conservative voters rejected Romney’s attacks. The conventional wisdom was wrong.
I think the conventional wisdom is wrong about Santorum. While I think he did not perform as well as he should have and, in fact, hurt himself, on the social values issues I think Santorum helped himself more than the media would believe.
In the meantime "GOP fears rise over 2012 tone, message"--they probably should: Santorum, last night, doubled down on "concerns" around contraception and women in combat--but promises not to do anything about it (contraception). If Santorum really, really believes he's in a good-vs-evil fight with satan for the soul of America is it reasonable to think he wouldn't use executive power to act against something he saw as linked-to-abortion/murder? I can't exactly answer that--and neither can anyone else.

But this being Arizona another issue was front-and-center. Potentially an even bigger one.

That Issue is ... Immigration
Last night, in Arizona, the candidates went on the record on Immigration. Arizona has some of the harshest immigration laws on the books and their super-sheriff Joe Araipo has been controversial about illegal "immigration stops." Here are points of view:

  • Romney: He thinks the laws are "a model to follow" and likes the e-verify program.
  • Santorum: He likes Arizona too and Sheriff Joe Arapio (he should continue as he sees fit). He won't force home-owners to e-verify (electronically check people's employment) as that's a bit too far.
  • Ron Paul: He says the nation should deploy more immigration officers to the border--probably the least extreme as Newt ...
  • Gingrich: He wants the border fence, would waive all federal regulations and environmental studies for it, and would slash the cost. He would send half the 23k Homeland Security employees to the border states!

What Does This Mean?
While white, male GOP-base voters may really like this stuff a key demographic, Latino voters, do not. Why should we care? After all, they're a minority--and how bad is a border fence anyway? Let's look.

1. They're a Big Minority (and Growing)
This graph shows the trend-line for US Demographics. The birthrate for whites is under the 2.1 necessary for steady-state population but for Latinos it's around 3. They're a big minority and getting bigger all the time. Furthermore, Latinos are pretty industrious. Our biggest trading partner isn't China--it's Latin America (taken as a whole). The South Florida real estate market is getting what little help it is from wealthy Brazilians buying up houses.

2. They Care About The Fence and The Dream Act and The GOP Is On the Wrong Side Of Both
The Fence is unpopular. The Dream Act, which allows illegals who arrived as minors, show good character, and attend college or join the military to have citizenship, is very popular. Obama is on the "right side" of both of these. The GOP is not.
Republican opposition to this one element of immigration reform paints them in a corner that either solidifies a Latino voter’s vote against a GOP nominee or should make Republican Latinos question their party’s wisdom in attacking innocent kids. It’s ironic that all these candidates should be staunch pro-life advocates and believe that life is sacred at conception but is unholy if it’s undocumented.
The largest group of Republican Latinos, Somos Republicanos, is out against Romney for his stance--and the other's aren't doing too well either.

3. Demographically Latinos and Other Fast Growing Minorities May BE Pretty Important To Our Economy.
According to some, Europe's economic problems are rooted in low-birthrate issues. From the "Demographic Winter2" site:
Economist Robert J. Samuelson wrote in a June 15, 2005 column in The Washington Post: “It’s hard to be a great power if your population is shriveling.” Samuelson warned: “Europe as we know it is going out of business…. Western Europe’s population grows dramatically grayer, projects the U.S. Census Bureau. Now about one-sixth of the population is 65 and older. By 2030, that could be one-fourth and by 2050, almost one-third.”

By the mid-point of this century, 16% of the world’s population will be over 65. In developed nations, today, 20% of the population is over 60. By 2050, the proportion of elderly will rise to 36%. By then, these societies will have two elderly for every child.

If present low birthrates persist, the European Union estimates there will be a continent-wide shortfall of 20 million workers by 2030.
If any of this is true, it will be incumbent on both minorities and immigrants to pick up the slack in our economy.

4. The Republican Candidates Will Need Some Policy Gymnastics On This To Run To The Center In The General
Now that everyone is on the record--with full video--the question is: how will they "run to the center." To be sure, the stances are already cemented (Jeb Bush cautions the candidates as of January not to lose Latin voters):
"The growing populations in all of the swing states are Hispanic voters," he said, according to CNN. "This is an over-simplification, but I don't think a party can aspire to be the majority party if it's the old white guy party."
Romney's "Self-Deportation" may be taking what started as a joke (by a Latino) and in a "Taking An Onion Article Seriously" maneuver making it policy.
As the radio program “This American Life” reminded its audience on Tuesday, there is an argument to be made that the term self-deportation was invented in 1994 by two Mexican-American satirists, Lalo Alcaraz and Esteban Zul. That year, “sickened” by a ballot initiative known as Proposition 187, which aimed to prohibit illegal immigrants from using state-run hospitals and schools in California, the comedians began posing as conservative activists who backed the measure.
What Do I Think?
I did not watch the debate. I do think that the RNC has shot itself in both feet this year with a slew of debates that, really, did very little to clarify issues but gave every candidate a chance to say something stupid with the cameras rolling. If the intention was to give us a look at these guys it worked--but it's not clear to me how well the "A-grade" candidates we didn't see would've performed with 20 debates and a 4 to 8 person shooting gallery (Hillary and Obama were 1-on-1 once Edwards was out of the picture).

I also think that the RNC's decision to extend the primary by making state's delegates proportional was the kind of thing that looked good on paper but was terrible in hindsight. Yes, the extended Hillary-Obama primary forced them to build infrastructure and build it in every state--but they were not running against an incumbent--and the sitting president (Bush II) was so unpopular that they hardly needed to train their attacks on him.

In the current environment the Republican candidates are forced to attack each other as they fight for the top slot in a Basket of Crabs scenario. I'm not sure who set this dynamic up--but I'd fire them.

I suspect that in the top three biggest mistakes the 2012 candidates will be found to have made will be their positions on immigration. These will be well documented, solidified, and long-standing. I think that against an articulate Obama machine--which is doing its messaging in real-time and not waiting until the conventions to get the word out--there will be no running to the center. Candidates with more cross-over appeal (such as Jeb Bush) did not run, possibly due to the climate that has produced this race. I suspect the lack of these candidates (Perry was hammered for calling the GOP base's position on immigration heartless) will leave a long-standing sour taste in the young Latino voters who will become older established voters in the next decade. If their hearts and minds are lost to the GOP--despite their generally Catholic and largely conservative culture--it will be an enduring mistake that was probably unnecessary.

1This is a joke (if you search the thread for the allegation you'll find it--but it's a random commenter). It is not a joke that some observers found the audience "Romney friendly" and Arizona has a large presumably pro-Romney Mormon populace (which Georgia does not--and he skipped that debate!
2The movie (which is pay-to see) is interesting (I've had a chance to watch it). It makes a statistically based case that Western Civilization is DOOMED due to declining birth-rate. It thinks the only answer is adherence to biblical commands to be-fruitful-and-multiply ... which is questionable (if my son continues to grow at his current rate, he will be a 9-foot tall six year old ... clearly trends are nothing if not immutable)--but it's well made and adequately researched. Night before last on NPR I heard the same thing discussed in that Europe is suffering from its aging population and has its own immigration issues that are preventing an influx of young tax-paying workers to take up the slack.

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