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The GOP’s catch-22

Republicans are in a genuine bind: Their future electoral prospects are near zero as long as they continue to lose Latinos by more than 40 points.

Yet they can’t win these voters without wholesale changes to GOP orthodoxy. They don’t need to win them outright — George W. Bush became president with 40 percent of that vote — but they need to be far better positioned than they are now.

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Math-savvy Republicans who want to win elections recognize this. Unfortunately for them, their party is beholden to a xenophobic base that brooks no dissent on immigration. And it’s those xenophobes who vote in Republican primaries.

The National Review’s Richard Lowry huffs, “Reagan signed the amnesty of 1986. What did it do for the party’s standing among Latinos? George H.W. Bush got only 30 percent of the Latino vote in his own landslide of 1988.” The magazine’s editors pile on: “Republicans who believe that amnesty would buy them an electoral advantage with Hispanics are deluding themselves.” Phyllis Schlafly echoes the notion that the only good policy for America is policy that produces Republican voters: “Reagan was persuaded to sign a major amnesty bill for the then-illegal aliens, but it’s well-known that the resultant amnesty was rife with fraud and did not produce Republican votes.” At conservative news outlet Townhall, a columnist claimed, “Roughly 70 percent of Hispanic Americans already vote for the Democrats and you have to expect that the Democrats would capture an even larger percentage of illegal aliens. Keep in mind that for the most part, illegals are poorly educated, have minimal English skills, come from socialistic countries and make a living here doing low-end, poorly paid manual labor.”

As wrong as those people usually are, they’re right that legalizing millions of new immigrants would hurt them electorally, at least in the short term. As I noted in this column two weeks ago, Latinos are more socially liberal than the general public, approving of marriage equality and abortion rights by greater percentages than whites. They are also more supportive of government and hostile to unfettered capitalism, with a more positive view of “socialism” than even Occupy protesters.

Still, the Latino vote is growing regardless of whether the nation’s undocumented immigrants are legalized or not. Republicans simply can’t afford to lose even more ground with those voters and remain electorally viable. So is there a way Republicans can pretend to show progress and openness on an issue that is killing them, yet still stymie genuine attempts at reform? Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has given this some thought.

“The next two years, I’m really hopeful that we can deal with the issue of immigration holistically,” he said. “I think it needs to be dealt with comprehensively but not in a comprehensive bill — in a comprehensive package of bills.”

Rubio’s statement is nonsense. You cannot deal with immigration holistically without actually dealing with it in a holistic manner. Instead, he proposes splitting the issue into packages, each one able to be filibustered and obstructed by a hostile House and Senate minority. Remember, this is the same GOP that killed the DREAM Act — an attempt to legalize children of undocumented immigrants who want to attend college or serve in the military.

Even with long-term electoral survival on the line, it’s doubtful that a party willing to beat up innocent children to appease their xenophobic base is going to back a package that tackles genuinely thorny immigration matters.

Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com)