The RNC’s Tom Perez Problem

March 18, 2013 9:49 am

The two biggest political stories of the day — the RNC’s release of its reaction to the party’s 2012 drubbing, and Tom Perez’s nomination to be President Obama’s Labor Secretary — couldn’t be more perfectly suited for each other. Two great tastes that taste great together.

The RNC report is called the Growth and Opportunity Project, and it effectively turns the GOP’s determination to avoid rethinking its economic policies — and to instead focus exclusively on making marginal inroads with minority voters — into the party’s official strategy.

Enter Tom Perez.If you’re just tuning in, Perez is a Hispanic leader and as head of DOJ’s civil rights division one of the Obama administration’s most progressive officials. But in recent years he’s also been the target of racialized attacks by familiar characters in the conservative media.

For both of those reasons, he’s the sort of nominee Republicans can’t help but filibuster. Thus, on the day of its unveiling, the Growth And Opportunity Project faces a major challenge to its own raison d’être. The report notes, “If we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them and show our sincerity.”

That’s hard enough to do when the party’s simultaneously filibustering a qualified candidate to be the only Latino in Obama’s second-term cabinet. But it’ll be even harder if the conservative media lapses into another Sotomayor-like spectacle of racial panic and drags elected officials with them.

“In the modern media environment a poorly phrased argument or out-of-context statement can spiral out of control and reflect poorly on the Party as a whole,” the Opportunity Project warns.

Unfortunately for the GOP the right is primed to make Perez another cause célèbre for what you might call the ethnic resentment wing of the conservative movement.

Republicans’ impossible challenge then is to hem in external opposition to Perez so that it doesn’t spill out into naked xenophobia, without revealing that their other objections don’t seem to merit spiking his nomination. They’re not off to a good start.

Rush Limbaugh said Perez “may as well be Hugo Chavez,” then compared him to a liberal equivalent of a Klansman for not prosecuting the New Black Panthers. And things aren’t much better on Capitol Hill.

“This is an unfortunate and needlessly divisive nomination,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said in a statement Monday. “Mr. Perez has aggressively sought ways to allow the hiring of more illegal workers. Mr. Perez has also had a controversial tenure at the Department of Justice where he has demonstrated a fundamentally political approach to the law.”

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