The 2003 tactics Republicans would prefer to forget

THE 2003 TACTICS REPUBLICANS WOULD PREFER TO FORGET…. Following up on an item from earlier, Republicans are pointing to the 2003 fight over Miguel Estrada’s judicial nominee as offering key lessons in 2009. I think that’s true, but for far different reasons.

For some, the point is that Democrats opposed Estrada, but didn’t suffer political consequences, so Republicans need not worry about taking on Sonia Sotomayor and losing support from Hispanic voters now. It’s a misguided comparison, for a variety of reasons.

But the reference to Estrada is nevertheless a helpful reminder. In 2003, the mainstream Republican attack — repeated over and again, by officials at a variety of levels — was that opposition to a Hispanic judicial nominee was necessarily evidence of Democratic racism. I pointed earlier to Trent Lott and Rush Limbaugh making the argument.

The Media Matters Action Network found plenty of additional examples.

Republican Sen. Jon Kyl Said “I See This, Really, As A Slap At Hispanics.” As reported by the Washington Times: “Republicans have seized on Mr. Estrada’s stalled nomination to drive a wedge between the Democratic Party and Hispanic voters, whose ranks are growing faster than any other minority group in America. ‘I see this, really, as a slap at Hispanics,’ Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, said Wednesday.” [Washington Times, 3/14/03; emphasis added] …

Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla Said Opposition To Estrada Was “The Biggest Anti-Hispanic Crusade This City Has Ever Seen.” As reported by the Washington Times: “Senate Democrats yesterday again blocked the nomination of lawyer Miguel A. Estrada to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The vote sustained for the second time a Democratic filibuster of the Estrada nomination. His supporters responded with accusations of racism and President Bush declared that ‘the judicial confirmation process is broken.’ ‘It’s a sad day,’ Rep. Henry Bonilla, Texas Republican, said after the vote. ‘This is the biggest anti-Hispanic crusade this city has ever seen.'” [Washington Times, 3/14/03; emphasis added]

In case the point isn’t entirely obvious, these attacks were pathetic for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that Democratic opposition had nothing to do with ethnicity. Republicans were engaged in the laziest thinking possible: Estrada was a Hispanic nominee, so to oppose him was to be anti-Hispanic.

I suspect these same Republicans — Jon Kyl is now the #2 GOP leader in the Senate — would be outraged to see the same standard they used in 2003 applied to themselves in 2009.