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GOP's Ugly Anti-immigrant Rhetoric In 2014 Guarantees Long-term Harm

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Yesterday, America’s Voice released polling from Latino Decisions on “the politics of immigration are influencing Latinos’ perceptions of both parties and potential presidential contenders heading into 2016 and beyond.” Among the key finding:

Republicans are Facing Major 2016 Problem: Fifty-five percent of Latinos said that they’d vote for the Democratic candidate if the 2016 Presidential election were held today.  Twenty-five percent said they were undecided, and 20% said they’d vote for the Republican candidate–well short of the 40% threshold needed for either party to be competitive in a general election.

The 2016 campaign starts in earnest in just two weeks. But, during the 2014 cycle, the GOP has gotten especially ugly in some of its anti-immigrant rhetoric. That’s going to do the party even more long-term damage, starting with the next White House campaign.

Earlier this week, The Boston Globe reported on the GOP’s 2014 strategy – and its longer term pitfalls – in an article titled, Midterm immigration ads may hurt GOP in 2016:

Several Republican candidates are now attacking their opponents for supporting a sweeping 2013 immigration bill that passed the Senate with bipartisan support and was cowritten by several prominent Republicans, including Senators John McCain of Arizona, the failed 2008 presidential candidate, and Marco Rubio of Florida, a possible future presidential candidate.

As a result, some Republicans worry that while the party might be helped by such rhetoric in the midterms, it could haunt the GOP in 2016 and complicate the party’s efforts to remold its image to Hispanic voters.

“Unfortunately, this is like the fourth act of a play that Republicans keep using,” said John Weaver, a Republican consultant who advised McCain during part of his 2008 presidential run. “Playing on the fear of some Ebola-carrying, ISIS terrorist — marching from Brownsville, Texas, to Des Moines — they think they can play on that image and that fear. And they’re going to take advantage of it, even though it does long-term damage across the board.”

Today, The New York Times also addressed the GOP’s anti-immigrant strategy, In Raising Immigration, G.O.P. Risks Backlash After Election:

Republicans have long relied on illegal immigration to rally the conservative base, even if the threat seemed more theoretical than tangible in most of the country. But in several of this year’s midterm Senate campaigns — including Arkansas and Kansas, as well as New Hampshire — Republicans’ stance on immigration is posing difficult questions about what the party wants to be in the longer term.

Some Republicans are questioning the cost of their focus on immigration. Campaigning on possible threats from undocumented immigrants — similar to claims that President Obama and the Democrats have left the country vulnerable to attacks from Islamic terrorists and the Ebola virus — may backfire after November. At that point, the party will have to start worrying about its appeal beyond the conservative voters it needs to turn out in midterm elections.

“You should never underestimate the ability of the Republicans to screw something up and blow an ideal opportunity,” said Ralph Reed, an influential conservative who has battled with hard-line Republicans to take a more charitable view on immigration.

“There is a sense in which, I think, the overwhelming desire to gain control of the Senate has kind of so fixated the party’s strategic brain trust that trying to get a hearing on long-term strategic issues doesn’t seem to be possible at the moment,” he said.

Also, today, MNSBC’s Benjy Sarlin reported on this development in a piece titled, GOP candidates accelerate party’s right turn on immigration:

[Scott] Brown, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, has put immigration and border security at the top of his platform for months. He’s just one of many prominent Republicans doing so in competitive races around the country, a move that could have long lasting implications as the party tries to rebrand itself with Latino voters ahead of the next presidential election.

It’s an unexpected turn in an election cycle that many observers assumed would largely hinge on other issues. Heading into 2014, only 3% of voters told Gallup that immigration was their most pressing concern. Latino voters, the group most engaged on the issue and who had helped power Obama’s re-election, are mostly concentrated in states without competitive Senate races. Republican leaders, equally afraid of offending conservative activists and the emerging Latino electorate, typically preferred not to draw attention to the topic while they quietly gauged support for immigration reform legislation that might neutralize the issue in 2016.

Since then, conservatives have shifted the center within the GOP decisively to the right. Immigration reform was already dead this summer when a wave of Central American migrant children pushed border issues back onto the front page. Led by lawmakers like GOP Florida Sen. Ted Cruz, Republicans rallied behind legislation that would dismantle Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provides temporary work permits to young undocumented immigrants. By the time Congress left for recess, the default Republican position had drifted even further to the right than Mitt Romney’s “self deportation” 2012 platform.

Sarlin wrote:

For now, Republicans can fire up the base on immigration issues without much fear of electoral reprisal. Their House GOP majority is secure and concentrated in disproportionately white districts, and the Senate map this year features few states where Latino voters are a big factor. All of that changes the day after November 4th when attention turns to the presidential election and Republicans have to worry about winning states with large Hispanic populations like Florida, Nevada, and Colorado to take back the White House.

Everything does change on November 5th, which is 15 days away. The GOP’s 2014 anti-immigrant strategy may help some of their candidates on a short-term basis. But, this may be a permanent shift as AV’s Frank Sharry told MSNBC’s Sarlin, “I think it’s a permanent shift for Republicans. What was temporary was the post-2012 attempt to find a middle ground.”

Whatever the case, this anti-immigrant positioning is going to do long-term damage with the fastest growing voting demographics. They can’t say they weren’t warned.