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Cadillac's lesson for Republicans' old-white-guy brand

AP photo

AP photo

As Republicans dig themselves further into the immigration restriction hole, they should be mindful that brands are not easily refurbished. Republicans are burning their bridge to the fastest-growing minority in America, Hispanics –  a bridge that could take years to rebuild.

How long? Let the Cadillac brand tell you a story.

Caddy once dominated the U.S. luxury market. Got soft. Took the market for granted. Foreign competition like BMW and Lexus swooped in with better quality and performance – stealing away new generations of luxury buyers. Soon, the Cadillac brand was the car of old, white folks.

In the last decade, Cadillac has invested millions into shifting the brand’s image to appeal to a sexier, younger, edgier (literally in the case of the Caddy’s eye-catching, sharp-creased designs) demographic.

And yet, reports The Wall Street Journal, “Cadillac’s U.S. market share has remained relatively unchanged over the past 10 years, bouncing between a high of 1.35 percent in 2005 to 1.05 percent at the end of 2012.” Still in 5th place – behind BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, and Acura.

Republicans take note.

The immigration debate should play to the party’s strengths – promoting the Land of Liberty to new generations seeking the American dream. Against stubborn Democratic unionists who resent labor competition, Republicans should be championing immigration reform that recognizes that immigrants come here – not to be parasites – but to excel or to liberate their families from poverty back home in South America. Republicans could be Lady Liberty, championing  guest worker permits for low-skilled workers, putting them on a track for citizenship, American prosperity, and Republican votes.

Yet, the GOP has flubbed the opportunity. Instead of liberty lovers, they see foreign invaders. Instead of free labor markets they see free-loaders. They call themselves conservatives? And so their restrictionism further reinforces the GOP brand as the old, white guy’s party.

Sound familiar? Cadillac can tell you a story.

Henry Payne
Henry Payne is the auto critic for The Detroit News. A 25-year newspaper veteran, Payne is also a Pulitzer Prize-nominated cartoonist with United Feature Syndicate, a former columnist and editorial writer for The News, and a contributor to The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, and other publications. His auto reviews appear every Thursday in the Drive section.