Democrats have made no secret of their intent to pack the U.S. Supreme Court, water down the protections of small states in the Senate and effectively demolish the Electoral College. All of these things are Overton window shifts in our constitutional order.
One necessary but not sufficient step to do so is the (probably unconstitutional) admittance of the District of Columbia as a state, a sure fire bet to deliver two Democrat senators in perpetuity given that D.C. is a government-dependent mixture of Blacks, Latinos and woke Whites.
Unfortunately, the much different issue of statehood for Puerto Rico has been sucked into this maelstrom. Republicans should have a more open minded attitude toward Puerto Rican statehood aspirations than they do toward cynical calls for D.C statehood. Not only do the facts argue more strongly for Puerto Rican statehood, but it’s actually in the party’s self-interest to at least be open to it.
Puerto Rican statehood is something that goes back a long way. It’s been a part of Republican convention platforms (including the current one) and has enjoyed the support of every modern Republican president (counting candidate Trump in 2016). The people of Puerto Rico just voted in a plebiscite in favor of admission to the Union (not for the first time).
The current delegate to Congress from Puerto Rico is a Republican. As recently as last year, the Puerto Rican governor and both chambers of the legislature were Republican. Puerto Ricans have a high degree of voter intensity in favor of pro-life candidates for office. There’s no reason to assume that Puerto Rico will produce two Democrat senators like one can reasonably do with the District of Columbia.
There’s also a reason for Republicans to be open to Puerto Rican statehood which is a little closer to home — Florida.
In a study last year by the James Madison Institute (JMI), a conservative Florida think tank out of Tallahassee, the role of Puerto Ricans in recent Florida elections was examined. Puerto Ricans, like any other U.S. citizens, are free to live (and vote) in the state of their choice. Over 1.1 million Puerto Ricans have chosen to live in Florida, mostly in the middle of the state between Orlando and Tampa. As a result, about 1 out of 20 Floridians is of Puerto Rican descent.
The JMI study found that candidates, regardless of party, who were open to the legitimate aspirations of these voters for statehood were rewarded with more Puerto Rican votes than those candidates not open to or opposed to statehood. A good example here is Gov. Ron DeSantis, who switched his position from anti-statehood to neutral on statehood when he made the jump from the U.S. House to run for higher office. His support level among Puerto Ricans rose considerably.
Sen. Rick Scott is a strong proponent of statehood, and did very well against former Sen. Bill Nelson, who surrounded himself with statehood skeptics. Sen. Marco Rubio is also a statehood supporter and enjoys greater support from Puerto Rican diaspora voters than, say, President Trump did.
The Trump campaign made the decision in 2020 to not oppose statehood, and to instead focus on socialism concerns among Cuban and Venezuelan Floridians further south. When then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke at Mr. Trump’s RNC convention, he omitted opposition to Puerto Rican statehood for the only time all year (he invariably opposes it and D.C. statehood in the same breath). Clearly, the JMI report was read by someone on President Trump’s Florida political team.
If all that’s not enough, AOC is on the other side of the issue. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nydia Velazquez will next week introduce a bill calling for the Puerto Rican legislature to call for a convention, which then would result in yet another referendum, which then might lead to statehood. This is clearly a delaying tactic, not a pathway to statehood.
Why are they opposed to admission? One answer might be that Puerto Rico looks a lot like a purple state, likely to send as many Republicans as Democrats to the Senate — economically moderate and socially conservative. In the House, reliably liberal states like New York and California would lose relative strength to this new purple state, assuming a constant number of House seats in the chamber.
If you’re a conservative and/or a Republican, you may or may not be convinced that Puerto Rico should become the 51st state. But a clear look at the facts should tell you that it’s in your self-interest to be open to it. And at the end of the day, would a pro-life, pro-traditional family, economically populist state be a bad candidate for a star on the flag?
• Ryan Ellis (@RyanLEllis) is president of the Center for a Free Economy.