GOP Latino Outreach Strategy: Oppose, Ignore, Aggravate and Scapegoat

Events over the past weeks show that the Republican Party still hasn't learned the lessons of the 2008 election. As Senator Tom Coburn might say -- they have some "splaining to do."
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A series of events over the past several days and weeks show that the Republican Party still has not learned the lessons of the 2006 and 2008 elections. As Senator Tom Coburn might say -- they have some "splaining to do."

In a remarkable and mostly unconscious display of white identity politics, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee spouted condescending questions at the president's distinguished nominee for the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor. Failing to trip her up, all but one of the Republicans on the committee voted against her nomination.

This proved too much for conservative-leaning columnist Ruben Navarrette:

Judge Sonia Sotomayor cruised through her confirmation hearings without a scratch. Too bad we can't say the same about the seven Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee who tried to dent her credibility and wound up demolishing their own. The problem wasn't that Republican senators challenged Sotomayor. That's their job. The problem was that they did their job in such an obsessive and boorish way so as to make clear to the entire country that they had no idea how to deal with someone like Sotomayor.

Navarrette added that the GOP missed a huge opportunity to make "lemons into lemonade by grabbing the moment and using it to make the point that their party does, on occasion, open doors for the talented but underrepresented. Instead, they gave the appearance of standing in the doorway."

Unsurprisingly, Ranking Minority Member Jeff Sessions became the GOP's point person in the opposition to Sotomayor. For a party needing to shed its reputation as an all-white club for Southern gentlemen, this proved to be an unfortunate development.

To add insult to injury, and despite invitations to several Republican Party leaders, not one Republican notable could find the time to attend this week's annual meeting of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) in Chicago. This despite outreach and invitations to Michael Steele and leading GOP Governors rumored to be interested in running for president. In past years, NCLR's annual conference -- the largest annual gathering of Latino activists and leaders in the country -- has attracted President Bush, John McCain and many other prominent Republicans.

The GOP's unwillingness to send a representative this year speaks volumes. Perhaps some actually agree with former Congressman Tom Tancredo, who made the outlandish and laughable charge that NCLR is the "Latino KKK" and Sotomayor should not be confirmed because she had once been a member of the mainstream group. It's more likely, and even sadder, that these presidential wannabes fear an attack ad in a primary that shows them receiving applause from a sea of brown faces. Meanwhile, the Democrats seem to get it. Democratic National Committee Chair Tim Kaine and several high-level officials from the Obama Administration attended and spoke at the NCLR conference.

Finally, and according to Chris Strohm of Congress Daily (sub req), some Republican legislators who oppose the Democratic Party's health care plans are pulling out their favorite bogeyman -- "the illegal alien" -- to try to block progress on Obama's signature priority. This week, Rep. Lamar Smith and Rep. Steve King both claimed that Democrats want to provide taxpayer funded health insurance to undocumented immigrants -- despite the fact that the proposed legislation clearly bars them, and despite the fact that both President Obama and Speaker Pelosi have made this fact crystal clear. But this is a familiar page from the GOP playbook: play off of people's anxieties over illegal immigration with lies and distortion in order to delay or derail something largely unrelated.

Clearly, the GOP has not learned the lessons of the 2006 and 2008 elections when it comes to courting Latino voters. In one of the most remarkable falls from political grace in recent electoral history, the efforts by President Bush and Karl Rove to win over Latino voters, especially Latino immigrant voters, was torn asunder from 2005 on by the right wing revolt against comprehensive immigration reform and the demonization of hardworking immigrant families. For example, Spanish-dominant voters supported John Kerry in 2004 by a slim margin -- 52 percent to 48 percent. In 2008 Barack Obama won a much larger cohort of Spanish-dominant voters by a margin of 75 percent to 25 percent.

So, what is the GOP comeback plan? Well, judging based on recent developments, it seems to be: oppose Judge Sotomayor, ignore the largest Latino organization in the country, and distort the health care debate by scapegoating immigrants.

All of this is a mere pre-season scrimmage compared to the upcoming immigration reform debate. Senator Schumer plans to introduce a bill by Labor Day. He plans to work with the few Republicans who get that antagonizing the fastest growing group of new voters in the country amounts to political suicide. They will have their work cut out for them. The right wing echo chamber will go, well, loco. Let us hope, for the good of the country, and for the good of the Republican Party, these brave souls stand up and take on the radical right and their know-nothing tendencies.

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