Washington – Despite attempts by the likes of Jeb Bush, Newt Gingrich and Tom Ridge to get the Republican Party to move away from anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric that alienate Hispanic voters, those in the driver’s seat for the GOP on immigration policy are House hard liners Lamar Smith (R-TX), Elton Gallegly (R-CA) and Steve King (R-IA). Based on the recent House hearings on immigration and their frequent press statements, the three are pursuing a two-pronged strategy: 1) promote legislation that they hope will drive millions of immigrants out of the country; and 2) convince Republicans that Latino support for the GOP is increasing – in part because of their harsh policies towards immigrants.
Somewhere, smart Republicans who understand that the only way to retake the White House is to win 40% of the Latino vote are wincing.
Rep. Smith is depicted in a new George Will column as “immigration’s taskmaster” and in favor of “attrition through enforcement.” What does “attrition through enforcement” mean? It means ramping up enforcement at all levels so that life becomes so unbearable for undocumented immigrants that those who don’t get picked up and deported pick up and leave on their own. In other words, Rep. Smith wants 11 million undocumented immigrants forced out of the country. A more honest name for this strategy is “mass deportation.”
Moreover, Rep Smith portrays himself as not only an expert on immigration solutions, but an expert on the Latino vote. In the Washington Times he states, “Critics say pro-enforcement policies harm the Republican Party’s future with Hispanic voters, but the facts prove otherwise” – citing 2010 exit polls that included the much-disputed finding that 38% of Latino voters supported Republicans. He asserted in a Washington Post op-ed: “the 2010 election actually paints a very bright picture of the Republican Party’s relations with this country’s growing Hispanic population.”
Say what? Evidently, Rep. Smith missed the fact that Latinos proved to be the firewall in the West that saved the Senate for the Democrats. He seems to ignore the fact that this was the first wave election since 1930 in which only one chamber – the House – flipped. And he uses exit poll numbers, which are very good at predicting outcomes but notoriously inaccurate when it comes to capturing the voting behavior of Latino voters (example: the exit polls in Nevada said Sharron Angle received 30% of the Latino vote; in 2008 the exit polls showed that John McCain won 22% of the Latino vote; the idea that Sharron Angle out-performed John McCain with Hispanics is literally incredible).
More reliable numbers from Latino Decisions, a group that specializes in reaching Latino voters, found that Latinos averaged only 24% support for Republicans in 2010 in generic two-party voting for the House of Representatives. Despite Smith’s claims, Latinos overwhelmingly voted against anti-immigration candidates in key races, including voting 90-8% in favor of Harry Reid over Sharron Angle in NV Senate; voting 84-15% for Rory Reid over Brian Sandoval in NV Governor; 86-13% for Jerry Brown over Meg Whitman in CA Governor; 86-14% for Barbara Boxer over Carly Fiorina in CA Senate; and 81-19% for Michael Bennet over Ken Buck in CO Senate. According to the polling, immigration was the second most important issue for Latinos, after jobs and the economy, with 60% of Latino voters saying it was either “the most important” or “one of the most important” factors in their voting decision. The outlier was in Florida, where Marco Rubio received 62% of the Latino vote in the three-way Senate race, based largely on his strength within Florida’s Cuban community.
Not to be outdone, Rep. Elton Gallegly recently opined that: “Republican support is growing among Hispanic voters because Republicans agree with U.S. citizens of Hispanic descent that illegal immigration hurts all Americans,” but cited no actual facts to back up his argument. Well, here are some actual facts. According to the latest impreMedia and Latino Decisions polling, 47% of Latino voters rank immigration as their top issue, and only 9% said they will vote for Obama’s Republican challenger in 2012 (8% said they might). As Pilar Marrero put it in La Opinion: “This is one of the lowest levels of support obtained by the Republicans in recent years, and far less than the 40% a GOP candidate would need to make a difference in key states to become president.”
Smith and Gallegly, along with the “livewire” Rep. Steve King (R-IA), are making news regularly with a series of hearings that try to put a new spin on their mass deportation fantasy. The problem for them is that the news they are making is mostly reported in Spanish. For the first two hearings of the year, 61% of the media coverage showed up in the Spanish language media. That can’t be good for the GOP.
While Reps. Smith, Gallegly, and King remain the Party’s face on immigration for most Latino voters, some interesting voices from elsewhere in the Party are starting to pipe up:
- Newt Gingrich: Presumed 2012 Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich stated, “We have a huge challenge — what do you do with the human beings who are engaged, some of whom are married, have children? It’s a very complicated situation, and I don’t you think you can just wave a magic wand and have some kind of a simple, clean answer.” He also called out opponents of the DREAM Act, saying: “They’re going to take somebody who came here at 3 years of age, who doesn’t speak Spanish and who just graduated from a high school in Texas, and they’re going to say to him, ‘We’re going to deport you.’ That’s certainly their prerogative. I don’t think the country will go for that. I think that’s so lax in a concern for the human beings involved.”
- Public Opinion Strategies, a leading Republican polling firm, recently issued a preview of the 2012 political landscape. Among their major points in a look at the presidential race, includes the following per Politico: “Republicans cannot afford to lose the Latino vote by 30%+ as they did in 2008.” GOP pollster Whit Ayres, similarly said that the most discouraging piece of data for the party ahead of 2012 is the GOP’s difficulty with Hispanic voters. “If we lose the fastest-growing, largest minority group like we lost them in 2008, it’s going to be pretty tough in places like Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona.”
- Former U.S. Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, also a former Republican Governor of Pennsylvania, said, “At some point in time you’ve got to say to yourself, ‘We’re not sending 12 million people home…Let’s get over it…We’re not going to send them home, so let’s just figure out a way to legitimize their status, create a new system, and I think that will add more to border security than any number of fences we can put across the border.”
As Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson wrote recently, continuing to follow the Three Amigos’ advice on Latino outreach will be disastrous for the GOP in future elections: “the Republicans since November have doubled down on their anti-immigrant jihad – rejecting the Dream Act during the lame-duck congressional session, continuing to call for more mass deportations and the denial of birthright citizenship. Where once a sizable number of Republican legislators (and President George W. Bush) were open to immigration reform, hardly any even broach the topic today amid the ever-rightward gallop of the GOP’s voting base, which itself grows whiter every year.” Meyerson notes the potential consequences for the GOP in states such as Texas, writing, “to read the newly released census data on the Lone Star State is to understand that Texas, the linchpin of any Republican electoral college majority, is turning Latino and, unless the Republicans change their spots, Democratic.”
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