Republicans and Latinos

REPUBLICANS AND LATINOS….Here’s the opening sentence of this morning’s LA Times story about the appointment of Mel Martinez to head the Republican National Committee:

President Bush’s decision to back Sen. Mel Martinez to help lead the Republican Party, a move intended to appeal to disaffected Latino voters….

Question: does this make any sense? My experience is heavily colored by local California politics, but that experience suggests that Bush and Karl Rove are whistling past the graveyard. Long story short, Republican Governor Pete Wilson barnstormed the state in 1994 in favor of Proposition 187, a measure that heavily restricted state services for illegal immigrants. It passed handily (though a judge later threw out most of it), but the effect on the California GOP was catastrophic: Latinos began turning out more heavily, and efforts to bring them into the Republican fold cratered. It’s not the only reason California has been so reliably liberal ever since, but it’s a big part of it.

If national politics works the same way, the fence-building, immigrant-bashing, English-only rhetoric from the paleo-conservative wing of the Republican Party this year has dealt it a permanent blow among Latinos, and nothing they can do is going to reverse this in the near term.

So: Is the Times just regurgitating conventional wisdom about Martinez? Or do Rove and Bush not understand just how hopeless their position is? Or is the California experience not necessarily the template for the entire country?

My guess is #2. I think the Republican Party has lost the Latino vote for a generation, but Bush and Rove aren’t yet willing to admit it. It’s probably not the only thing they’re in denial over.

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