Opinion Columns & Blogs

Republicans fighting demographic change

Don't look now, but Texas is turning blue.

Not today, to be sure, nor tomorrow. But to read the newly released census data on the Lone Star State is to understand that Texas, the linchpin of any Republican Electoral College majority, is turning Latino and, unless the Republicans change their spots, Democratic.

Figures released last month by the Census Bureau show that during the past decade, Texas joined California as a majority-minority state: The share of whites in the Texas population declined from 52 percent in 2000 to 45 percent in 2010, while the percentage of Latinos rose from 32 to 38 percent. Nearly half of all Texans under 18 — 48 percent — are Latino.

Texas is hardly alone in this epochal demographic shift. In the first four states for which the Census Bureau released detailed information — New Jersey, Louisiana, Mississippi and Virginia — the number of whites under age 18 actually declined during the past decade. The numbers of Latinos and Asians among the young, by contrast, are soaring, and they are highest among the youngest.

Nationally, whites are now a minority — 49.9 percent — of Americans age 3 and under. In eight states and the District of Columbia, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution's William Frey, minorities comprise the majority in pre-K and kindergarten. Looking at all school enrollment, from pre-K through graduate school, Frey told the New York Times' Sabrina Tavernise, whites were 58.8 percent of all students in 2009, down from 64.6 percent in 2000.

What these numbers mean is simply that the Republicans have an existential problem. As America becomes increasingly multiracial, the Republicans have elected to become increasingly white.

The GOP's response to this epochal demographic change has been to do everything in its power to keep America (particularly its electorate) as white as can be. Republicans have obstructed minorities from voting; required Latinos to present papers if the police ask for them; opposed the DREAM Act, which would have conferred citizenship on young immigrants who served in our armed forces or went to college; and called for denying the constitutional right to citizenship to American-born children of undocumented immigrants.

In Nevada, California and Colorado last fall, the Republicans ran statewide candidates who embraced Arizona's draconian racial identification law. And massive turnout from Latinos, who overwhelmingly voted Democratic, defeated those candidates. Undaunted, the Republicans have doubled down since November on their anti-immigrant jihad — rejecting the DREAM Act during the lame-duck congressional session, continuing to call for more mass deportations and the denial of birthright citizenship. Where once a sizable number of Republican legislators (and President Bush) were open to immigration reform, hardly any even broach the topic today amid the ever-rightward gallop of the GOP's voting base, which itself grows whiter every year.

Given the growth of America's Latino population, and the Republicans' intensifying (and reciprocated) hostility toward Latinos, the GOP's only long-term hope for clinging to power is to find ways to restrict the franchise as much as possible to reliably white Americans. In nearly two dozen states, Republicans have pledged to introduce legislation to require various forms of identification at polling places.

The latest wrinkle in limiting minority representation has popped up in Texas, which is going to gain four congressional seats as a result of the largely Latino population growth the state experienced over the past decade. (Latinos account for 65 percent of the state's growth during that time.) Last month, three anti-immigrant activists asked a court to rule that undocumented immigrants must not be counted for purposes of the impending decennial redistricting, though the census has tallied residents, not citizens, since it was first conducted in 1790. They are not asking that Texas forfeit one or two of its new House seats, mind you. They are asking, in effect, that districts with substantial Latino populations, in which it is assumed a disproportionate number of the undocumented reside, be made larger than other districts to account for the noncitizens. This would result, of course, in fewer Latino-majority — and fewer Democratic-majority — districts.

The Texas lawsuit, which evokes memories of the constitutional clause that enabled our slave states to count each slave as three-fifths of a human being in order to enlarge those states' congressional delegations, may well go nowhere. But the transformation of the Republican Party from its origins as the party that favored freedom and the franchise for all Americans into a party whose continued success depends on restricting that franchise is all but complete. Increasingly, that looks to be the only way that the GOP can keep Texas — and the rest of its Electoral College base — red.