To take the public conversation on its face, a key dynamic in the Sotomayor story is that Republicans can’t easily level what would otherwise be legitimate criticisms because some will see them as evidence of prejudice or hostility toward a Latina woman. In other words, the GOP is hamstrung on this battle and has to fight it with one rhetorical arm tied behind its back.
In theory, that could be a problem. But a couple days in, it’s actually playing really differently. While elected Republicans are keeping their powder mainly dry and avoiding — in all but a few cases — racial charged remarks. But you can’t say that for professional Republicans. We’ve heard that her taste for ‘ethnic’ food might throw into question her judicial reasoning, that she’s a product of affirmative action, that she’s a racist, that she’s challenging English language dominance by insisting on an alien Spanish pronunciation of her name, that she belongs to a scary group called ‘la raza’ that might want to help Mexico reconquer the southwestern United States and make it Mexican again and on and on. All told, there’s a chorus from the right that Sotomayor is a scary Mexican, understood in the sense of ‘Mexican’ as anybody with a Spanish last name who isn’t actively working to keep the Cuban embargo in place.
And to the extent that there’s political calculation at work it seems more likely that it’s the realization that any Latina nominee would bring out the rightwing crazies like moths to a flame. They simply can’t help it.