There are a variety of ways to do the electoral math, but here is one: Republicans won about a quarter of the Latino vote in a nation when about a quarter of all children entering kindergarten are Latino. Republicans have a rendezvous with irrelevance, arriving faster in places such as Colorado, Nevada and Florida. While it remains possible for Republicans to win national elections with low Latino support, it will become harder and harder over time. Eventually, a party at war with demography becomes accustomed to defeat.
Confronting the problem seems even less attractive because it won’t be solved in a single, symbolic vote on immigration reform. That would only allow a more extensive courtship to begin. And many Latino voters, according to the polls, believe government should take a positive role in solving social problems and encouraging economic mobility. A serious appeal to Latinos would involve not just an embrace of immigration reform but also the application of creative, conservative ideas to the specific needs of a rising minority group. This explains at least a portion of conservative resistance to this political task. It requires a form of conservatism that accepts the safety net and actively seeks to extend opportunity.
But immigration reform is the threshold. As John Bunyan tells it in “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” Christian begins his journey by passing through a gate, and the gatekeeper’s name is Goodwill.