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Victory Lessons from George W. Bush

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Photo by Shawn Clark of Lazyeights Photography

To capture the White House in 2016, Republicans must follow the example of the last GOP candidate to win a solid majority: George W. Bush. Exit polls show the basis for his success in 2004, and for Mitt Romney’s failure in 2012. Both Republicans drew similar turnouts of conservatives and white voters, while Romney brought even more evangelical Christians to the polls, and matched Bush with 78% of their support. But Bush was much more competitive among Latino and Asian voters: losing to John Kerry by only 10 percentage points (54-44%), while Romney got crushed by 45% (72-27%).

Why the difference? Bush fought for immigration reform, including a path to legal status for the undocumented, but Romney took a hard line, emphasizing “self-deportation.” This issue impacts literally millions of Latino and Asian families. With these voters  projected for an even more crucial role in 2016 – comprising at least 15% of the overall electorate, compared to 11% in 2004 – alienating these communities will definitively doom any Republican nominee.

Nevertheless, Ted Cruz promises to win the presidency by rallying disillusioned conservatives – particularly Christian conservatives – and to win bigger-than-ever majorities among voters who already strongly favor the GOP. According to Cruz, these conservatives didn’t turn out for McCain or Romney, but they’d come out for him just as they did for the last successful GOP candidate – his fellow Texan, George W. Bush.

The problem is that voting statistics undermine this argument: self-described Evangelicals turned out in even greater numbers for Romney than they did for Bush, who focused heavily on appealing to such voters in his successful re-election campaign of 2004. Evangelicals comprised 27% of the electorate in 2012, compared to just 23% who showed up for the Bush victory eight years earlier. Both Republicans won similar majorities of “born-again Christian” and conservative voters, and Romney did even better among whites—winning by 20 points compared to a 17 point margin for Bush.

The reason Romney lost was Obama’s lopsided 45 point advantage among Latinos and Asians, and his decisive 15 point margin with self-described moderates – who represented a full 41% of the overall electorate. A Republican who can’t compete for these votes has no chance of victory, no matter how much he (or she) may appeal to white, Christian conservatives.

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