GOP vs. Sotomayor

You may not be seeing any Republican senators accusing Judge Sonia Sotomayor of racial insensitivities, but their strategy appears set — let the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich call her racist, stupid and extreme, while dragging out the confirmation process in order to energize their base and kick-start their fundraising.

Of all the battles worth fighting, it’s interesting that Republicans have chosen this one — Sotomayor has impeccable academic (summa cum laude at Princeton, J.D. from Yale Law School) and judicial credentials. Ideologically, she promises very little change from retiring Justice David Souter, and certainly shows nothing in her extensive judicial record that would put her outside the jurisprudence mainstream.

President Obama chose well, so absent any substantive critiques, conservatives have turned to personality attacks, focusing on a 2001 lecture in which she said, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [in race and sex discrimination cases] than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” Seems pretty obvious, no different than Samuel Alito saying, during his confirmation hearings, “When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account.”

But in a world of manufactured outrages, Sotomayor’s words were enough to whip conservatives into a frenzy. “She brings a form of bigotry or racism to the court,” thundered Limbaugh, comparing her to David Duke. Pat Buchanan wrote that she was an “anti-white, liberal judicial activist” in his May 29 syndicated column. Newt Gingrich posted on Twitter that since a white racist would be unacceptable on the high court, this “Latina woman racist should also withdraw.”

Opposing Sotomayor is a losing battle — she will be confirmed easily — but conservatives reason it’s worth waging to energize the base. Problem is, is energizing that shrinking base really worth losing yet more voters to the Democratic Party?

New numbers from Gallup paint a bleak racial picture for Republicans. According to 26,000 interviews in the month of May, just 5 percent of Republicans are Hispanic, 2 percent are African-American and 4 percent are “other.” In total, 89 percent of Republicans are non-Hispanic white. That number is 73 percent for independents, 65 percent for Democrats. “Republicans have a clear monopoly on the allegiance of white conservative Americans,” concludes Gallup. “[B]ut the GOP’s challenge is figuring out whether this is enough of a base on which to build for the future.”

It’s not, of course. The Census Bureau projects that Latinos will double, from 15 percent of the current total population to 30 percent, by 2050. Along with continued growth among Asians, African-Americans and other minority groups, non-Hispanic whites are projected to fall from their current 66 percent of the nation’s population to 46 percent in 2050. By 2042, they will be the minority. And having already lost young voters, the GOP can ill afford to lose yet another growth demographic.

Obama won Latinos 67-31 in 2008, a dramatic collapse in Latino support for the GOP given George Bush’s 44 percent in 2004. The GOP’s draconian position on immigration has been a prime catalyst, but the outsized hostile reaction to the first Hispanic nominee to the nation’s highest court isn’t going unnoticed, either. Nonsensically accusing the first Latina nominated to the Supreme Court of racism and stupidity isn’t going to win Republicans any points with an increasingly skeptical Latino electorate.

Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos