The GOP's Hispanic Problem

I might be one of the last Latinos in the United States to think this way, but I still believe that America’s largest minority would be smart to keep open the possibility of voting Republican now and then.


Latinos will have more power and influence by putting their chips all over the board and splitting their votes between the parties than they would if they simply gave all their votes to Democrats in perpetuity. Besides, there are plenty of policy areas — vouchers, faith-based initiatives, school accountability, national defense, abortion, gay marriage, etc. —  where Republicans are more in sync than Democrats with the average Latino voter. So I think Latinos should give Republicans a chance to make their case, keep an open mind, and support candidates they can live with.

I’m hardheaded like that.

You see, these days, Republicans aren’t making it any easier for me to make that case. A few years ago, it was because of the immigration debate which some Republicans help give an anti-Hispanic flavor while refusing to acknowledge the degree to which the dialogue is propelled by racism, xenophobia, and a fear of demographic and cultural change.

And now, it is because 31 Republican senators recently voted against the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor even after many admitted that she was qualified for the very position they were intent on denying her, leaving the impression that the Republicans were pandering to white constituents put on edge by Sotomayor’s speeches on “The World According to ‘A Wise Latina.’”

I’m hearing from a lot of Latinos from all around the country who tell me that it’s “game over” and that the GOP has cooked its chorizo with voters like them because of how the Republican senators treated Sotomayor. It’s not just the “no” votes. It’s the fact that those votes came with side orders of condescension and hostility and even ethnic-ribbing as when Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, channeled Ricky Ricardo and informed the federal judge that she “had some ‘splaining to do.”


Nice. Fit that man for a white sheet and matching hood.

Not surprisingly, Republicans are in denial about the backlash and don’t want to accept it. They’re whistling past the graveyard and telling themselves that they won’t pay a price for petty and condescending opposition to the first Latina Supreme Court nominee in U.S. history.

Good luck with that, folks.

Meanwhile, given that this working-class success story aced her studies in the Ivy League and logged more years on the federal bench than any other nominee in recent history, Latinos are left to wonder just what more Republicans want in a Latino Supreme Court justice. It’s a fair question since the last three Republican presidents — George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan — nominated a total of seven justices and there was nary a Latino in the bunch.

[A caveat: Bush 43 deserves credit for nominating a superb candidate in Miguel Estrada, but that was for a lower court — the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Democrats also treated Estrada shabbily, even going so far as to filibuster his nomination — the first time that had ever been done for a lower-court judicial nominee. All because Democrats feared that Estrada, if he made it to the D.C. appeals court, would be just a short step from the Supreme Court and making the history that Sotomayor made.]

I deplore such cynical gamesmanship and the offensive way that Democrats treated Estrada, and I put it in writing at the time. But Latinos didn’t hold a grudge over Estrada the way they will over Sotomayor. Two reasons: Estrada is a Republican who was nominated by a Republican and Latinos tend to vote Democratic, and it took some effort on my part to convince Latinos that Democrats were working against their interests. This time, with Republicans and their treatment of Sotomayor, that’s not a hard sell. Latinos are already inclined to think that the GOP is hostile to them because of the debate over immigration and affirmative action, and so it takes very little for pundits and political operatives to make the case that Republicans have declared open season on Latinos.


This is all the more reason that the GOP should avoid feeding that narrative whenever possible. Like when deciding whether to vote “yay” or “nay” for a Supreme Court nominee put forth by a president who has the right to choose his judges and who was sure to be confirmed anyway.

In politics, you have to pick your battles. And this is one battle that Republicans shouldn’t have picked. Not to mention one that — demographics being what they are — they can’t win.


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