Hurricane Isaac wasn't the only thing on Republicans’ minds as they congregated in Tampa last week for the Republican National Convention, which crowned Mitt Romney as the party’s candidate for President of the United States last Thursday.
What they should be worried about—very worried—is that their party has turned into a virtual monolith, where other ideas and groups aren’t exactly welcome. They should be worried about ignoring the demographic reality of this country, the importance of minority voters—particularly Hispanics—to their political survival.
They gave speaking slots to a token number of Latino figures, hoping they would serve as ambassadors, but these don’t erase reality. Their party’s platform--and the politicians who defend, promote or stay silent about it—tell the real story: the Republican Party is an island unto itself, sustained entirely on the support of its conservative base, and turning a hostile face toward the largest minority group in the country and the issues that concern us, like immigration. An island that allies itself with some of the leading anti-immigrant figures in the country. Let me give you an example.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the architect of the toughest anti-immigrant laws in the nation (SB 1070 in Arizona and HB 56 in Alabama) and the “brains” of the anti-immigrant movement, is an advisor to the Romney campaign, and the force behind the hard-line immigration position soon to be enshrined in the Republican platform.
And while there’s always a debate over whether party platforms have any real importance, they do reflect a consensus among the party’s leaders—Romney among them—and interest groups about their vision of the issues. In this case, the platform proposes a guest-worker program as a sugar coating for a series of positions that confirm its hostility to immigrants: a border wall, mandatory E-Verify, opposition to “sanctuary cities,” and withdrawing Department of Justice lawsuits against states that have passed anti-immigrant laws, among others.
Republicans continue to answer the central question of immigration policy—what to do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the country—as Romney did in the primaries: self-deportation, or, as the platform draft puts it, “humane procedures to encourage illegal aliens to return home voluntarily.”
There’s no mention of the deferred action policy which will allow almost 2 million undocumented youth, known as DREAMers, to obtain temporary protection from deportation and work permits. It doesn’t say—as Romney himself hasn’t said—what will happen to deferred action if Romney is elected president. Will he revoke it? Romney did promise to veto the DREAM Act, which would legalize these young people, and has said that he will offer a “permanent solution” but hasn’t clarified what that solution is.
In the midst of that uncertainty, a development Thursday was revealing: agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the group NumbersUSA, which advocates a moratorium on all immigration, sued the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and ICE to stop deferred action from going into effect. And who is the lawyer representing the ICE agents and NumbersUSA? Why, Kris Kobach. As the saying goes, “Dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres”—tell me who you walk with, and I’ll tell you who you are.
And so Romney and the Republicans come to the event that will mark the starting gun of an obstacle course that ends on Tuesday, Nov. 6 with an obvious “Hispanic problem,” underlined by poll after poll showing Romney’s level of support among Latinos at less than 30 percent--and yet hoping to capitalize on the lack of enthusiasm many Latino voters currently feel.
His, and their, strategy isn’t to propose policies that might attract Latinos, but to erode Obama’s level of Latino support.
I thought elephants were supposed to have excellent memories.
This case appears to be the exception, because the elephants meeting in Tampa forgot and discarded, in their prejudice, the gains made by figures like George W. Bush who understood the importance of the Latino vote to their future as a party. And among those who have rejected that legacy include, regrettably, Republican Hispanic leaders who once stood shoulder to shoulder with Bush and now find themselves robotically defending a candidate who’s perpetuated Republicans’ anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic image.
Last week, Tampa hosted a convention for the forgetful elephants.
Maribel Hastings is a senior adviser to America’s Voice.