Not For Lack of Trying

June 22, 2009 2:28 p.m.

TPM alum Greg Sargent has a good post up showing that the anti-Sotomayor push from the GOP seems to be eroding what little Hispanic support is left for the Republican party. And Atrios points out how crazy it is that Republicans have managed to blow it so thoroughly with Hispanics even though it’s been clear for years to both parties how critical this constituency would become.

And I agree on both points.

But it’s worth backing up to take stock of the structural bind Republicans face on this issue. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, and even into this decade, we always used to hear that refrain from Republicans and gullible press commentators that if GOPers could just compete with the African-American vote that they’d put the Democratic party out of business for good. Lurking in the background was always that unspoken assumption that African-American votes are somehow second rate, don’t quite ‘count’ in the way that non-black votes do. But even on the pure mathematical merits, there was always either a silly or stunningly oblivious assumption behind the reasoning — now that we’ve got the racial backlash vote squared away, if we can just get the blacks on board too, then we’ll be golden!

Well, yes, as a coalitional feat, that would be something. But we can all see why there are some real entrenched reasons why it’s tough to pull that off.

And there’s a very similar dynamic with the Hispanic vote. It’s not like there aren’t a lot of Republicans who know that building up an Hispanic constituency is key for the party. And there’s a whole cadre of operatives — just as there is on the Dem side — who’ve taken it upon themselves to work over the years at making that happen.

The only problem is that the modern Republican party’s panic switch, or at least one of them, is rancid jingoism and more or less open anti-Hispanic (though often specifically targeted at Mexicans) prejudice. Or, to put it more bluntly, as with African-Americans, it’s tough to be the party of the blacks and the racists at the same time. (Not that the Dems didn’t try it for a few decades in the middle of the 20th century — but it didn’t end up panning out.)

One might imagine a alternative universe in which gays were not only an increasingly open and powerful political constituency but also one that was growing rapidly in population terms. And you’d have Republicans wanting to cultivate support among this growing group but also episodically bashing them to consolidate support among base conservative voters.

In other words, it’s not a mistake or incompetence or any lack of planning that has Republicans in such a bad position with Hispanics, America’s fastest growing ethnic group. It’s just that people who are hostile to Hispanic immigration and just Hispanics in general are one of the GOP’s key constituencies. That puts some real obstacles in the way of becoming the party of Hispanics. To put it mildly …

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