Adiós, GOP

Republicans rejoiced when Supreme Court Justice David Souter announced his retirement. A highly charged court battle was just what conservative groups needed to rally the base and replenish empty coffers.

The reaction to President Obama’s choice of Judge Sonia Sotomayor was certainly oversized — from calling her a racist to arguing that the top graduate at Princeton and Yale Law was stupid. The entire GOP leadership — from Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh to Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele — engaged, ensuring that the entire right-wing apparatus was concentrating its fire on Sotomayor. Tom Tancredo called her a member of a “Latino KKK,” while Limbaugh said she was a “an affirmative action case extraordinaire” and compared her to David Duke.

A few Republicans tried to calm down the hysteria. “I’m not surprised at Rush Limbaugh but I’m very surprised at Speaker Gingrich,” said GOP media adviser Lionel Sosa to the Huffington Post, noting that her confirmation was essentially a done deal. “He must realize how damaging [his rhetoric] could be … For a senator to have strong opposition to her, they are either not aware of the impact Latinos will have on the next election or they don’t care.”

Given the GOP’s hard line against immigration, they clearly don’t care about the Latino impact on future elections. While 69.4 of America was non-Hispanic white in 2000, that number will steadily drop, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates — 65.1 percent in 2010, 61.3 percent in 2020, 57.5 percent in 2030. By 2050, the U.S. will be majority-minority. While Asian and African-American population growth will account for some of that, the lion’s share will be Latino.

Perhaps Republicans think that Latinos are a lost demographic, and hence irrelevant to their calculations. That would explain their hostility to immigration and support for English-only laws. Yet it wasn’t long ago that Latinos were a swing constituency. Ronald Reagan picked up 44 percent of the Latino vote in 1984, as did George W. Bush in 2004. And Republican positions on social issues could appeal to the culturally conservative ethos of the devoutly religious Latino community. But instead of cultivating the demographic, Republicans now treat Latinos as the enemy. Latinos are returning the favor.

Prior to the Sotomayor nomination, a May 18-21 Daily Kos/Research 2000 weekly national poll found that the Republican Party was viewed favorably by Latinos by an anemic 11-79 percent, with 10 percent having no opinion. Those numbers would suggest some kind of floor, but last week’s edition of the poll found an astonishing 10-point erosion — with just 8 percent viewing Republicans favorably, and 86 percent unfavorably. Only 6 percent of Latinos remain on the fence. The Sotomayor debate has made it clear where the GOP stands, and it’s about to get uglier, with indications that Republicans will attack Sotomayor for her association with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the island’s oldest civil rights group.

But if their Sotomayor strategy was sure to alienate Latinos, what about their expectation that a high-profile Supreme Court battle would galvanize base supporters and help raise money? “She doesn’t have the punch out there in terms of fundraising and recruiting, I think — at least so far,” admitted Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneFlake to try to force vote on DACA stopgap plan Congress punts fight over Dreamers to March The 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework MORE (R-S.D.), who will soon be elevated to the No. 4 leadership position in the Senate, replacing the hypocritical philanderer Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.).

With 6 percent of Latinos still undecided on their feelings toward the GOP, Republicans have a fantastic opportunity to finish the job, transforming the fastest-growing ethnic demographic in the country into a bloc as reliably Democratic as African-Americans.

Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos