Political Animal


October 20, 2011 8:40 AM GOP hopes Latino voters have short memories

By Steve Benen

A few weeks ago, Mitt Romney’s campaign launched an attack ad, going after Rick Perry for a Texas policy that offers in-state tuition to children of undocumented immigrants. It was an ugly, borderline-racist commercial, intended to exploit right-wing animus towards Latino immigrants. I noted at the time that Romney appears to be hoping that these voters have short memories and will forget about his divisive antics by Election Day 2012.

Of course, the larger issue goes well beyond one obnoxious ad. Given the extent to which Republican presidential hopefuls are appealing to anti-immigrant voters, the Latino community isn’t exactly being made to feel welcome in the GOP.

Today, Republican candidates are competing over who can talk the toughest about illegal immigration — who will erect the most impenetrable border defense; who will turn off “magnets” like college tuition benefits.

But after such pointed proposals heated up yet another Republican debate, on Tuesday night, some party officials see a yellow light signaling danger in battleground states with large Hispanic populations in November 2012. Will Hispanic voters remember and punish the eventual Republican nominee?

“The discussion of creating electrified fences from sea to sea is neither prudent nor helpful,” said Ryan Call, chairman of the Republican Party of Colorado, where Hispanics cast 13 percent of votes in 2008 and helped President Obama flip the state to blue. “They’re throwing red meat around in an attempt to mollify a particular aspect of the Republican base.”

Well, yes, of course they are. This isn’t a diverse party; it’s an overwhelmingly white, far-right party. There’s a very good reason Perry’s support plummeted the moment Republican voters heard about his support for Texas’ in-state tuition policy.

But the effect of this intra-party competition — candidates trying to out-do one another in a contest of who hates immigrants more — is equally obvious. Latino voters are likely to notice, and will be that much less inclined to vote Republican in 2012. Many in the community may be open to GOP outreach, but not if the party continues to use Latino immigrants as punching bags.

Lionel Sosa, a Texas strategist who advised George W. Bush John McCain on appealing to Hispanics, told the NYT, “[Romney] can make as many trips to Florida and New Mexico and Colorado and other swing states that have a large Latino population, but he can write off the Latino vote. He’s not going to gain it again.”

Given the size of the Latino population, that’s writing off a huge chunk of the American electorate.

GOP strategist Mike Murphy recently added, “In the short term, it’s a great wedge issue for Mitt Romney to beat up Rick Perry with in the primary. In the longer term, it’s a great wedge issue for President Obama to beat up the Republican nominee with. So it’s one of these things where the short-term interest and the long-term interest are in conflict.”

Romney very likely thinks he can turn on a dime after nailing down the nomination. After all, he’s done it before on every issue under the sun. But counting on millions of voters to simply forget the ugly tactics he used to win the party’s nod is a risky proposition.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • c u n d gulag on October 20, 2011 8:49 AM:

    When Mitt decided to get tougher and go toe-to-toe on immigration with the other candidates, he was hoping for a Mexican Stand-off.

    Instead, he and his party will find Hispanic voters jumping-off.

    I'm just thankful that the Republicans want to give the fastest growing demographic, and usually a fairly conservative one, over to the Democrats.

  • DAY on October 20, 2011 8:54 AM:

    Seeking the hispanic/black/young/old vote is not necessary. Much, MUCH easier to simply not allowing them to vote in the first place.
    "Papers, please."

  • TR on October 20, 2011 8:55 AM:

    Why wait for the general election? Democrats need to start airing ads targeted at Latino voters *now* with this BS, and encourage early registration to combat the coming purge of voter rolls that Republicans are engineering.

  • T2 on October 20, 2011 9:06 AM:

    "Given the size of the Latino population, thatís writing off a huge chunk of the American electorate."
    Yes they would be if that "huge chunk" voted. Which they don't. The GOP will continue to treat all Hispanic Americans like "illegals" until they all do what is needed to vote and then vote. If they need a photo ID, get one. If they need to register, do it. But a "huge chunk" of legal American citizens who are Hispanic have relatives who are illegal, and live in fear of exposing them or calling attention to their family. So they don't vote.
    The Voter Fraud fraud's that Republicans are passing in many states simply build on that fear.

  • Danp on October 20, 2011 9:11 AM:

    Using illegal immigration as a wedge issue is a bit trickier for Obama, since workers who take "jobs Americans don't want" do depress wages, and that is not what most Dem voters are fighting for. Obama needs to focus on some middle ground that involves controlled legalization, deportation of criminal elements, fighting cartels and smugglers, and humane treatment of people who, after all, are only here for their own survival. His policies seem to embrace that idea, but it doesn't make for an easy bumpersticker.

  • FRP on October 20, 2011 9:15 AM:

    The Latin , Hispanic community doesn't vote ?
    Anyone wrestling with that , might want to think that conclusion through again .

  • stevio on October 20, 2011 9:21 AM:

    If Latino voters are anything like the rest of the electorate in the US, I'd say Romney has a even change of reclaiming them given the $$$ that will be mustarded to remove Obama by the GOP.

    Short or long term memory and voters in the US have never been in the same room.

  • FRP on October 20, 2011 9:30 AM:

    I would agree that American voters have had difficulty sensibly connecting their votes against their tormentors who offer them more torment , with ribbons .
    That is one thing , messing with ones ethnicity is another . If you are foolish enough to raise their of an ethnic community your engaging long term memories to mythic levels .

    Remember the Alamo !

  • nemisten on October 20, 2011 9:32 AM:

    Let's hope the brains at the DNC and Obama's re-election campaign are busy cuing up the dozens of Romney's "I'm a stupid, hateful, arrogant racist' video clips for the coming mudfest. (Why am I not hopeful?)

  • FRP on October 20, 2011 9:32 AM:

    The ire of an ethnic comm...

  • chi res on October 20, 2011 9:42 AM:

    Republicans are confident that election Hispanics will come back to the fold on abortion, just like their priest tells them to.

  • Just Dropping By on October 20, 2011 10:17 AM:

    The Latin , Hispanic community doesn't vote ?
    Anyone wrestling with that, might want to think that conclusion through again.

    I believe there are studies that show that Hispanics who are otherwise eligible to vote are less likely to be registered or, if they are registered, to vote than Anglos or blacks. To put it in a sports metaphor, "Hispanic voters punch below their weight."

  • FRP on October 20, 2011 10:38 AM:

    "If you look at the Hispanic population, the thing that we have in common is a language - which is often spoken with slightly different accents. However, apart from that, many of our countries have different music, different histories, different foods, different experiences," Castillo said. "You can't really compare the Mexican experience to the Cuban experience or the Puerto Rican experience or the Venezuelan experience. They're all very different."

    Until you start working on them as a monolith they act as independents . Once anyone understands they are being targeted across society , unification of voting will continue until it is seen they are being treated as equals .
    The Latin Hispanic community is a far safer haven than almost any other enclave in America . Less of every single social wedge issue the right can vomit up .
    Thank you

  • Anonymous on October 20, 2011 10:45 AM:

    A couple of points from an Obama supporter, if I may:

    1. I've worked with immigrant, refugee and political asylum programs since 1976 and would like to suggest that not all immigrants welcome new arrivals. Vietnamese airlifted from Saigon in 1975 did not welcome the "boat people" in 1978 (Sino-Viet ethnicity being a factor); lowland Laotians did not welcome the more primitive Hmong hill tribe of Air America fame; the Cuban exile community shunned the Marielitos in 1980. This dynamic continues to the present day. Many established Hispanics are not enthused about current illegal immigrants, though most would accept legislation such as the Dream Act and the NACARA program run by DHS/CIS.

    2. It is true that the Latino voting rate is far less than that of US Afro Americans and non-Asian Caucasians. Census show that Hispanics comprise 16% of the US population but only 7% of all voters. In the 2010 mid-terms, the percent of eligible Latinos voting was 31%, compared to Black (44%) and White (50%). Still, 67% voted for Mr. Obama in 2008 adn the Hispanic population adds 600K eligible voters each year. Given rhetoric of today's GOP, there will not be a significant change in the 67% figure in 2012, unless upward.

  • liam foote on October 20, 2011 10:56 AM:

    Sorry ... meant to include my name on the Anon post.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on October 20, 2011 11:07 AM:

    @T2: Sounds like a great opportunity for volunteering in GOTV now. I'd like to know the best way to get involved in this effort.

    If we thwart the voter suppression, the GOP is sort of up the creek.

  • N.Wells on October 20, 2011 2:09 PM:

    Quite apart from the "last off the boat" phenomenon, legal immigrants are not inherently sympathetic to illegal immigrants, even if they are compatriots. Legal immigrants are primarily rule-following people, or they wouldn't have passed the criminal background checks, and they went through legal channels and had all the hassles and long waits associated with dealing with the INS, and so can strongly disapprove of people who didn't follow the rules or jumped the queue.

  • LaurenceB on October 20, 2011 4:35 PM:

    First, my background: I've been married to a Guatemalan for over twenty years and speak fluent Spanish.

    It's been my experience that most Mexicans and Central Americans are very, very sympathetic towards illegals. As I am. While for other Latinos, I think there is often empathy, but at somewhat lower levels.

    In my opinion, most Latinos watching the last debate would have found it particularly painful. The worst moment was when Cain was asked whether or not his electric fence "joke" was actually a joke, and then the audience laughed hysterically and continued to laugh during Cain's (non-)response. The impression I had, and that I'm sure most Latinos had, is that Republicans found it humorous that Mexicans could be killed trying to cross the border. It was not a pretty moment.

    Realizing the damaging tone that the discussion had taken, Romney later attempted to right the ship by tossing out some kind of weak platitudes on the subject of legal immigration. Too little, too late, I think. By the end of the discussion, the overall impression was that Republicans would get a real kick out of killing immigrants - but not the legal ones.

  • Doug on October 20, 2011 9:50 PM:

    "So it's one of these things where the short-term interest and the long-term interest are in conflict." Mike Murphy quoted by Steve Benen.

    What do you expect? They're 21st century Repblicans, aren't they?

  • jrumor on October 21, 2011 11:35 AM:

    people born in the US are citizens.... the 14th amendment is clear... saying otherwise is just discrimination.

    doesn't matter who their parents are or how they got here.