Can the Republican Party Evolve Its Way to Relevance? (Of Course.)

House Republicans appear to have all-but-officially tabled a push for immigration reform. Does this mean that the party is doomed to forever lose elections? No, as both a new survey and human logic might suggest.

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House Republicans, occupied as they are with other things, appear to have tabled their push for immigration reform, according to The Washington Post. Does this mean that the party is doomed to forever lose elections? No, as both a new survey and human logic might suggest.

The call for reform to the immigration system is one of the few times that a political campaign has drawn a straight, acknowledged line to a policy proposal. Mitt Romney got stomped among voters of color, so the Republican Party scrambled to help deliver a key priority for one of those constituencies. It was not called the "Please Consider Voting Republican or PCVR Act of 2013" when it was passed by the Senate, but it could have been. But time passed and a number of other things jumped in front of immigration in line, and now Greg Sargent reports that the House has given up on it.

[Rep. Luis] Gutierrez tells me that House Republicans on the gang of seven — who have been trying to negotiate comprehensive reform that members of both parties can support for a long time — are just not prepared to embrace a final plan. … “The bipartisan group just wasn’t getting support from Republican House leadership,” Gutierrez says. “It’s just not gonna happen now.”

This does not, however, mean that over the long term voters will draw a straight line from the Republicans' rejection to Democratic electoral victories. A new report from Third Way, a centrist think tank, suggests that worries over the Latino vote were likely overblown anyway. The Atlantic's Molly Ball has a good overview of the study, but the report's own summary does the trick.

[W]hile the demographic makeup of the country is indeed shifting, it is not transforming us into a nation of 1960s liberals. In fact, among three key groups — Hispanic, Asian, and Millennial voters — we find that they are not predominantly liberal, their ideology is not stable, and they don't display deep loyalty to the Democratic brand.

Ball questions those assumptions based on the evidence at hand — past voting choices heavily predict future ones — but one point buried in the paragraph above suggests that the Third Way is on to something. We are, as we must, trying to predict electoral patterns predicated on our existing political priorities and frames. In the future those will change — just as 1960s liberals ended up giving conservative Ronald Reagan a stunning landslide in 1984. Those liberals changed priorities; Reagan's Republican Party changed, too.

For the Republican Party, the question is: will Latinos of the future vote Republican? And the obvious answer is, yes, because the Republican Party will adapt positions and reframe messaging to appeal to those voters, precisely as it was poised to do earlier this year on immigration. The two-party system will not collapse intoa one-party system as the Republican Party adamantly opposes paths to citizenship and gay marriage and whatever else millenials like for decades on end. It will evolve.

The Third Way report isn't based solely on party loyalty, instead tracking issues over time. Issues like abortion, marijuana legalization, views on government size, and so on. But two of those three topics, you'll note, are ones that are important in this political moment. Twenty years ago, marijuana legalization was a largely fringe topic, not one that political parties expended a lot of energy polling on. Government size is a longstanding Republican issue — but one that really found its stride under Reagan — only 30 years ago. In 2043, will voters still be that concerned about the topic? Who knows.

Twenty years before Reagan, Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, reportedly saying, as he did so, that Democrats had then "lost the South for a generation." The fear among Republicans is that obstinance on immigration, unlike positions on marijuana, would similarly taint the party among Latino voters. It may — and that obstinance may actually help Democrats get a stronger foothold in the South. But America has still seen three of its seven presidents since 1963 be Democrats, in part because the party nominated two Southerners. Demography, as Third Way says repeatedly, isn't destiny. Nor are political persuasions permanent.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.