You already knew it, but WaPo columnist Michael Gerson puts it exceptionally-well in his op-ed today. As W’s former speechwriter and a GOP political operative, his concerns about the Latino vote are of interest. Here’s Gerson on why the GOP’s latest round of immigrant-bashing looks a lot like “political suicide”:
…it would be absurd to deny that the Republican ideological coalition includes elements that are anti-immigrant — those who believe that Hispanics, particularly Mexicans, are a threat to American culture and identity. When Arizona Republican Senate candidate J.D. Hayworth calls for a moratorium on legal immigration from Mexico, when then-Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) refers to Miami as a “Third World country,” when state Rep. Russell Pearce (R), one of the authors of the Arizona immigration law, says Mexicans’ and Central Americans’ “way of doing business” is different, Latinos can reasonably assume that they are unwelcome in certain Republican circles.
…Never mind that the level of illegal immigration is down in Arizona or that skyrocketing crime rates along the border are a myth. McCain’s tag line — “Complete the danged fence” — will rank as one of the most humiliating capitulations in modern political history.
Ethnic politics is symbolic and personal. Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy gained African American support by calling Coretta Scott King while her husband was in prison. Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater lost support by voting against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A generation of African American voters never forgot either gesture.
Coming after the debate over GOP-sponsored Proposition 187 in California and the disastrous (for Republicans) immigration debate during the last mid term elections, the new Arizona immigration law may well be strike three for the GOP regarding Hispanic voters in particular. (It will probably hurt some with all voters of color). Gerson cites a 2008 poll by the Pew Hispanic Center, which indicated that 49 percent of Hispanics believed “Democrats had more concern for people of their background,” while only 7 percent believed it true of Republicans. Says Gerson, “Since the Arizona controversy, this gap can only have grown. In a matter of months, Hispanic voters in Arizona have gone from being among the most pro-GOP in the nation to being among the most hostile.”
Gerson trots out some interesting demographic data to underscore his point:
…Hispanics make up 40 percent of the K-12 students in Arizona, 44 percent in Texas, 47 percent in California, 54 percent in New Mexico. Whatever temporary gains Republicans might make feeding resentment of this demographic shift, the party identified with that resentment will eventually be voted into singularity. In a matter of decades, the Republican Party could cease to be a national party.
Gerson tries to conclude on a hopeful note for his GOP brethren, pointing out that Hispanics tend to be “socially-conservative” and “entrepreneurial,” adding that “…Republicans do not need to win a majority of the Latino vote to compete nationally, just a competitive minority of that vote.” But cold logic forces his final sentence: “But even this modest goal is impossible if Hispanic voters feel targeted rather than courted.”
The rapidly-tanking GOP brand in Latino communities is one of the reasons why Republican leaders are so excited by Hispanic candidates like Marco Rubio in Florida — they think it helps project an image that they are Hispanic-friendly, despite their miserable track record on issues of Latino concern. Sort of a ‘Potemkin village” with large smiling portraits in the front and very little behind it.
Dems have been given a gift by the xenophobic wing of the GOP. That doesn’t, insure, however, that Latino voters will always turn out for Dems. But it does strongly suggest that Dems have much to gain by supporting accelerated naturalization of Hispanics applying for citizenship, investing in Hispanic registration and GOTV and especially by recruiting and training more Latino candidates.