It’s been no secret that one of the great perils of a Total War attack on confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor for Republicans has been the backlash it might provoke among Hispanics, that great potential swing-vote prize of American politics that once so obsessed people like Karl Rove. Indeed, it’s a classic swing-base dilemma for the GOP, which is under intense pressure from its loyal but grumpy culture-war wing to go to the mats, or at least make a lot of conspicuous (and thus politically dangerous) noise, in opposition to Sotomayor.
Writhing in agony on the horns of this dilemma, conservatives are showing some signs of wriggling free under the delusion that a nasty confirmation fight won’t actually hurt them much among Hispanics.
Here and there you see suggestions that Hispanics generally won’t identify with Sotomayor, since she is, after all, a Puerto Rican. Check out this post by David Bernstein at The Volokh Conspiracy:
“Hispanic” includes everyone with Spanish or Portuguese speaking ancestors, and I wonder how much pride, say, Mexican-Americans in California or Central Americans in the Northern Virginia suburbs take in the success of a Puerto Rican woman from the Bronx. One can imagine satisfaction that a fellow “Hispanic” is being nominated to the Supreme Court, but one can also imagine resentment that the first “Hispanic” nominee to the Court is from a relatively small demographic group, Puerto Ricans who live in the mainland, and not from by far the largest group of Hispanics, Mexican Americans.
The comment thread to that post, with scattered anecdotes about intra-Hispanic resentments, is interesting if not very compelling.
Aside from the fact that all the objective signs are that yes, Hispanics of every background are praising Sotomayor’s nomination as historic, there’s the problem that Puerto Ricans themselves are a pretty big deal politically. As a TDS staff post yesterday noted, Puerto Ricans have become a huge and growing factor in Florida elections, already beginning to rival the Cuban-Americans of the state in voting strength if not yet in national notoriety.
And it’s not just in Florida. Puerto Ricans are a significant bloc of voters in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Illinois, Texas and even California. While they are reputed to be an overwhelmingly Democratic group, “stateside” Puerto Ricans are actually not much more tilted towards Democrats than Hispanics generally. On that score, and in terms of their historically low levels of voting participation, there’s probably nothing like direct insults to Sonia Sotomayor so sure to produce a nice backlash against the GOP in the immediate future.
Perhaps the very dumbest move Republicans could make is to wilfully conflate the Sotomayor confirmation fight with appeals to the conservative base over resentments of Hispanics generally, or of immigrants in particular. In addition to giving Mexican-Americans an even stronger reason to identify with the judge, such talk will particularly offend Puerto Ricans, who are American citizens by birth whether born “stateside” or in Puerto Rico itself.
Given that lose-lose proposition, you’d think Republicans would make every effort imaginable to keep Tom Tancredo a million miles away from the debate over Sotomayor’s confirmation. Yet there he was on the tube just the other night, calling her a “racist.” How long will it be before other anti-immigrant voices in “the conservative base” turn this whole thing into a veritable Cinco de Mayo of Hispanic-bashing?
But the most hilarious example of Republican self-delusion came from none other than senior GOP Senator Chuck Grassley of IA, who advanced an interesting version of the so’s-your-old-man argument:
Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and member of the Judiciary Committee, noted that Democrats had used a filibuster to block the confirmation of Miguel Estrada, a Washington lawyer nominated by Mr. Bush to be the first Hispanic on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Senate Democrats who considered Mr. Estrada too conservative blocked his nomination after he refused to answer questions about his judicial philosophy at his confirmation hearing.
Mr. Grassley said that since Democrats had not paid a price among Hispanic groups for opposing Mr. Estrada, Republicans should not be held to a different standard if they opposed Judge Sotomayor.
So Hispanics need to give Republicans a free shot at Sotomayor because of Democratic opposition to Estrada, eh? Estrada, in contrast to the mildly center-left Sotomayor, was a big-time conservative legal activist. But even if you brush that aside, Republicans need to put down the crack pipe if they think fighting a circuit court nomination is the emotional or political equivalent to Hispanics of fighting the first Supreme Court nomination. Whatever his merits, people will not be naming their children after Miguel Estrada for years to come. Once Sotomayor is confirmed, there will likely be an upsurge in daughters named “Sonia,” and not just among Hispanics.
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