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This week, longtime conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly issued a call for the Republican Party to abandon immigration reform and Hispanic outreach in favor of a strategy focused on white voters. Talking Points Memo reports: “Phyllis Schlafly of the ‘pro-family’ group Eagle Forum called the GOP’s need to reach out to Hispanic voters a ‘great myth’ during a conservative radio program Wednesday. ‘The Hispanics who have come in like this will vote Democrat and there’s not the slightest bit of evidence that they will vote Republican,’ Schlafly said on Focus Today. ‘And the people the Republicans should reach out to are the white votes, the white voters who didn’t vote in the last election and there are millions of them.’”
That view was echoed by Steven Camarota from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), the organization that sold Mitt Romney on the idea of self-deportation. He said, “As Republicans think about how they can expand their voter base, the new data suggest that one of their biggest problems in the last presidential election was that so many less-educated whites sat home. These voters, who have been hard hit by the recession, have traditionally supported Republicans. It seems likely that by supporting the Schumer-Rubio amnesty, GOP legislators would further alienate these voters.”
A couple weeks ago, Pat Buchanan, the perennial right-wing gadfly who helped craft former President Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” issued a similar call to abandon immigration reform and to double down on a white voters only approach. He said, “…white folks are losing interest in politics and voting. Yet, whites still constitute three-fourths of the electorate and nine in 10 Republican votes. Query: Is the way to increase the enthusiasm and turnout among this three-fourths of the electorate for the GOP to embrace amnesty and a path to citizenship for 12 million illegal foreign aliens? Or is it to demand the sealing of America’s borders against any and all intruders?”
The following is a response from Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
It sure looks like the anti-immigrant crowd has decided to put away the dog whistle and pull out the bullhorn. The rhetoric from Schlafly, Camarota and Buchanan is not only ugly and divisive, it amounts top political malpractice. In 2008 and 2012, we saw the emergence of a powerful new coalition of diverse voters. And each time that coalition soundly defeated a Republican strategy that focused on mobilizing white voters.
The Republicans are facing an existential choice. They can listen to the anti-immigrant voices of Schlafly and Buchanan on their way over the demographic cliff, or they can side with those in the GOP who want to modernize the party and make it appealing to Latinos, Asians, young people and others who may be sympathetic to Republican ideas but not to its nativism.
The debate over immigration reform is about more than legislation. It is a debate about whether the GOP will continue to yearn for an America of yesteryear, when wedge issues worked like magic, or engage the America of today, where culturally-charged appeals backfire.