Losing the Latino vote "spells doom for us." – Mitt Romney, April 15, 2012
"Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community." – President Obama, October 26, 201 2
At last, bipartisan agreement! You don’t need a degree in political science to know this: demonizing and alienating the fastest-growing group in the country is no way to build long-term political success. Pair that with the fact that demonizing any group of Americans is un-American and just plain wrong. But in recent years, Republicans, and especially party standard-bearer Mitt Romney, just haven’t been able to help themselves. In an effort to win over a shrinking and increasingly extreme base, Romney and team have sold their souls to get the Republican presidential nomination. And they went so far to do it that even their famous etch-a-sketch won’t be able to erase their positions.
As Mitt Romney knows, the slipping support of the GOP among Latinos is no mystery. We’ve seen this movie before, in 1994, when Republican California Gov. Pete Wilson pushed anti-immigrant smears to promote California’s anti-immigrant Prop 187 which in turn buoyed his own tough re-election campaign. It worked in the short term – both the ballot measure and Gov. Wilson won handily – but what a long term price to pay as California became solidly blue for the foreseeable future.
We’re now seeing what happened in California at a national scale. Harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric helped Romney win the Republican primary. But in the general election, it may well be his downfall.
In case you tuned out Romney’s appeals to the anti-immigrant Right during the primaries, here’s a quick recap. He ran ads specifically criticizing Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court justice. He says he’d veto the DREAM Act , a rare immigration provision with overwhelming bipartisan support. He took on anti-immigrant leader Kris Kobach, architect of the draconian anti-immigrant measures in Arizona and Alabama as an adviser , then said his immigration plan was to force undocumented immigrants to"self-deport." He even endorsed Iowa Rep. Steve King, who suggested building an electric fence at the Mexican border, comparing immigrants to "livestock" and "dogs." Romney’s new attempts to appeal to Latino voters are clearly empty – he’s already promised the Right that he will use their anti-immigrant rhetoric whenever it’s convenient and shut down any reasonable attempts at immigration reform.
If President Obama wins reelection, however, we have a real chance for real immigration reform. He told the Des Moines Register last week that if reelected he will work to achieve immigration reform next year. Beyond incremental steps like his institution of part of the DREAM Act by executive order, real comprehensive immigration reform would finally ease the uncertainty of millions of immigrants and the businesses that hire them. It’s something that George W. Bush and John McCain wanted before it was thwarted by extremists in their own party. It’s something that Mitt Romney clearly won’t even try.
If President Obama wins, and especially when he wins with the help of Latino voters turned off by the GOP’s anti-immigrant politics, he will have a strong mandate to create clear and lasting immigration reform. And Republicans will have to think twice before hitching their futures on the politics of demonization and exclusion. Whereas George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Latino vote in 2004 and John McCain 31 percent in 2008, Mitt Romney is polling at just 21 percent among Latinos. That’s no coincidence.
My group, People For the American Way, has been working to make sure that the GOP’s anti-Latino policies and rhetoric are front and center during the presidential election. We’re running a comprehensive campaign aimed at the large Latino populations in Nevada and Colorado and the rapidly growing Latino populations in Iowa, Wisconsin, Virginia, and North Carolina. In each of those states, we’re strategically targeting Latino voters with TV and radio ads, direct mail, internet ads and phone banking to make sure they hear the GOP’s message about their community. In Colorado, we’re going up against Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS , which knows just as well as Romney that the loss of Latino voters "spells doom" for Republicans. In all of these states, higher turnout among Latinos motivated by Mitt Romney’s attacks could swing critical electoral votes.
This is a battle where the right thing to do and the politically smart thing to do are one and the same. Republicans have embraced racially-charged attacks against Latinos, pushing English-only laws,attempting to legalize racial profiling by immigration enforcement, dehumanizing immigrants, and even attacking the first Latina Supreme Court justice for talking about her heritage. They deserve to lose the votes of Latinos and others for it. This presidential election is a choice between right-wing scare tactics– the last resort of those fighting to return to an imaginary America of the past– and policies that embrace and celebrate our growing Latino population as an integral part of what is the real America.