Republican hostility to border kids alienates Hispanics again

Republicans can't help themselves — when they see an opportunity to irritate the Latino electorate, they go for it with gusto. With unseemly glee, Republicans have transformed the humanitarian crisis of children at our southern border into an "invasion" that must be repelled with soldiers.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), speaking on Glenn Beck's program, said "We are under invasion, and this president will not protect our country, and he will not step in and enforce the law as it is."

Of course, it’s President Obama's fault. Because anything that goes wrong in this world is either Obama's overreaching or disengagement. There is no issue to which the Republicans will not attach one of these labels — a cognitive dissonance that seeks to depict Obama simultaneously as a power-mad dictator and, in Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) unfortunate depiction, a president who sleeps through crisis.

Playing on this meme, Michael Reagan, son of the president that signed the amnesty bill in 1986, wrote recently: "Emperor Obama is the culprit in chief."

Yet the law is being enforced. According to the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, passed unanimously by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush, these kids have a right to due process. They cannot simply be shoved into a bus and dropped like cargo in Mexico. Or sent first class on a plane, as Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn (R) suggested as a solution.

Republicans' aggressive response against these kids is baffling as both a matter of policy and politics. The border kids crisis is not about immigration. The flows of unaccompanied minors over the last few months (estimates put the number of kids at over 50,000) has many causes: brutal violence, chaos, mortal fear and hope.

The violence and related mayhem in Central America has reached a critical juncture. The toxic cocktail of narco-mafias, violent gangs, acute poverty and corrupt governments has created dangerous instability and the subsequent need to flee from a life-threatening situation.

Ironically, much of this instability can be directly traced to America's multi-decade, failed and wildly expensive "War on Drugs" that has made these countries transit points for America's illegal drug imports.

The narco-mafias are multi-billion dollar "enterprises" with the economic capacity to cripple governments and field heavily armed guerrilla armies and an addiction to violence that terrorizes a vulnerable population that has been largely abandoned to fend for itself by the weak governments in the region.

Politically, the GOP is like a man standing on quicksand. After killing immigration reform in Boehner's House of Representatives, voting to deport the Dreamers and urging the faster deportation of the border kids, the party's chances of attracting a sizable percentage of Latino voters needed to win national elections recedes with every acrid declaration by Republican politicos seeking to court the far-right midterm election voters they need to win the Senate in November.

The GOP is rolling the dice with its future by seeking the older white vote while simultaneously repelling large swaths of the electorate – women, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, gay people, young people, Latinos, etc. — with its antediluvian policies.

While some analysts on the right have concluded that this is the optimum approach to win the midterm election — an assumption predicated on the expectation of low turnout of those same constituents that have largely voted for Democrats in past elections — that's an awfully big bet when the very future of the GOP is at stake.

What happens if the unthinkable becomes reality? What's the future of the GOP if come November 2014 furious Latinos turn out at the same rate as they did in the 2012 election? Or women outraged by the Supreme Court's decision that a corporation's religious rights trump a woman's right to control her own health?

Yes, the projecting of voter turnout is based on past voter participation. But as Mitt Romney's failed campaign for president in 2012 showed, predictions of turnout can be wrong — very wrong.

In particular, Republicans underestimate the blowback from Latinos. This year in the California congressional primaries, I endorsed a moderate Republican, part of the reform wing of the party. The reaction from the audience of my radio program, and especially through social media, was swift and brutal. Hundreds of Latino voters told me I was crazy – and that they would never vote for Republicans after they killed immigration reform in the House.

As Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) and other big name Republicans continue to call for a military response to this crisis by deploying the National Guard, the image of a GOP actively vilifying children and comparing them to foreign invaders is bound to further crystalize Latino anger and voting patterns.

Whatever else, should the National Guard be deployed because of these GOP demands, the effect on public opinion could sink the Republican Party.

Republicans will crash with a harsh reality of their own making: soldiers versus 10-year-olds is a "battle" with the optics of Birmingham, Ala. in 1963.

Espuelas, a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute, is a political analyst on television, radio and in print. He is the host and managing editor of “The Fernando Espuelas Show,” a daily political talk show syndicated nationally by the Univision America Network. Contact him at and via Twitter @EspuelasVox.

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