I do feel something for Republican National Committee Chair Reince Preibus. Maybe there's a sliver of pity -- mixed in with pure glee, of course. Speaking of purity, after Mitt Romney lost an election in which 89 percent of his voters were white, Preibus and company realized that their party had a bit of a problem winning support from, shall we say, certain demographic categories.
To its credit, the Republican Party actually engaged in some serious self-examination. The RNC conducted focus groups in a number of states, polled Hispanic Republicans, and spoke to a whole lot of people about their inability to win voters of color. On March 18, 2013, party officials they produced an autopsy report in which they admitted some hard truths, in particular regarding Latinos:
It is imperative that the RNC changes how it engages with Hispanic communities to welcome in new members of our Party. If Hispanic Americans hear that the GOP doesn't want them in the United States, they won't pay attention to our next sentence....if Hispanics think that we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies....Hispanic voters tell us our Party's position on immigration has become a litmus test, measuring whether we are meeting them with a welcome mat or a closed door. Throughout our discussions with various Hispanic groups, they told us this: Message matters.
Too often Republican elected officials spoke about issues important to the Hispanic community using a tone that undermined the GOP brand within Hispanic communities. Repairing that relationship will require both a tone that "welcomes in" as well as substantial time spent in the community demonstrating a commitment to addressing its unique concerns. As one participant in a regional listening session noted, "The key problem is that the Republican Party's message offends too many people unnecessarily."
[snip] As one conservative, Tea-Party leader, Dick Armey, told us, "You can't call someone ugly and expect them to go to the prom with you."
It's doubtful the report's authors were imagining Donald Trump specifically when they wrote this next section, but their warning certainly applies:
On issues like immigration, the RNC needs to carefully craft a tone that takes into consideration the unique perspective of the Hispanic community. Message development is critical to Hispanic voters.
[snip]In the modern media environment a poorly phrased argument or out-of-context statement can spiral out of control and reflect poorly on the Party as a whole. Thus we must emphasize during candidate trainings, retreats, etc., the importance of a welcoming, inclusive message in particular when discussing issues that relate directly to a minority group.
Looks like Mr. Trump must have missed those trainings.
For anyone who hasn't heard his poorly phrased, not-at-all-out-of-context statements, here's what he said in June -- as part of remarks announcing his candidacy for the White House, no less:
When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
In addition to the more obvious slander of the Mexican-American community, notice the divisive way Trump defines his audience. He speaks to "you." "You" are good, "you" are people without "problems." "They" are the Mexicans coming to America. "You" are his voters. Mexican Americans, and by extension all Latinos? Well, not so much. Can't you just see Reince's facepalm?
Some of you may be wondering whether, on the issue of immigration, Trump has offered anything other than insults. Actually, he has. Paul Waldman notes that he has presented more specific ideas on immigration during this campaign than any of his rivals for the Republican nomination.
Trump says he'll build a wall along the 1,993-mile U.S.-Mexican border -- which he'll get Mexico to pay for no less -- and that he'll deport every undocumented immigrant, all 11 million of them. And unlike Mitt Romney, he won't make them do it themselves. Trump will have the government round them up. Afterwards, he'll let the "good ones" return via some kind of "expedited process" that would allow them "legal status," but with no path to citizenship. "We got to move 'em out, we're going to move 'em back in if they're really good people," Trump summarized.
It's unlikely anyone is surprised by this, but Trump's remarks aren't going over well with Hispanic voters. A recent WSJ/NBC/Telemundo poll found 13 percent viewed him positively while 75 percent viewed him negatively. More importantly for the Republican brand, a robust 29 percent felt that when it comes to his slurs of Mexican Americans, he spoke for most Republicans. And why wouldn't they, given that his rise to the top of the GOP ranks immediately followed his characterization of Mexican Americans as rapists and drug smugglers?
That brings us to the recently concluded first RNC-sanctioned presidential debate. On immigration, Trump only doubled down. He restated his desire to build the aforementioned wall, and declined to walk back a single insult, even after moderator Chris Wallace repeated all of them and gave him an opportunity to do so. So much for inclusion.
Reince and his fellow Republican bigwigs wanted a limited number of debates and sought to keep fringe, extremist candidates off the main stage. They hoped to enhance the eventual GOP nominee's appeal by avoiding a repeat of 2012, where the establishment-backed front runner, Mitt Romney, was dragged to the right -- in particular on immigration -- by his primary opponents in debate after debate. Will Donald Trump be able to do the same thing to Jeb Bush? Will Trump's bile be so toxic that it stains the party's nominee no matter what? Will Trump himself actually win the nomination? Democrats looking for a landslide would sure welcome that message.