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Posted at 10:31 AM ET, 05/09/2012

Romney and the Hispanic vote

It doesn’t take a soothsayer to see that Republicans are going to lose the Hispanic vote. The only mystery is by how much — and that’s a key question.

Just how key is evident in the GOP’s increasingly feverish effort to contain the damage done in primary season, when Mitt Romney, with cameo assists from most of his rivals, took turns beating up on illegal immigrants and throwing cold water on common-sense immigration reform.

It’s a clear policy — amplified by Republican state lawmakers across the country — that amounts to unbridled hostility to 11 million illegal immigrants, 7 million of whom are in the American work force.   

Now Romney’s allies are scrambling to convince Hispanic voters that a) he doesn’t really mean it; b) even if he means it, they shouldn’t really care; and c) it’s all President Obama’s fault anyway.

The latest iteration of the GOP Hispanic strategy came on Tuesday, from the party official in charge of wrangling Hispanic votes. Bettina Inclan, director of Hispanic outreach for the Republican National Committee, said Romney was struggling to win over Latino voters because he “is still deciding what his position on immigration is.”

That statement, which got the headlines, is patently false. But her line of argument reflects the GOP’s effort to blur the terms of debate.

In fact, Romney’s position on immigration reform is well-delineated: he’s against it. He wants illegal immigrants to “self-deport,” which is a polite way of declaring open season on them in state legislatures so that they’ll leave the country “voluntarily.” He opposes the DREAM Act, which would set a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants, brought here as children by their parents, if they attend college or serve in the military. And he holds up Arizona’s show-me-your-papers immigration law as a national model.

To deflect attention from all that, Inclan tried to shift the focus from immigration to the economy, suggesting that Hispanics are (or should be) more concerned with the latter. It’s “almost insulting” to suggest that Hispanics are focused on immigration, she said.

In fact, polls consistently show that Hispanic voters, many of whom have undocumented relatives and friends, do tend to care deeply about immigration reform, and not many will be convinced that they shouldn’t.

Next, Inclan, like other Republicans, argued that Hispanics should be “incredibly disappointed” that Obama failed to enact immigration reform, as he promised to do when he ran for the presidency in 2008.

This is particularly rich, since it is the overwhelming opposition of Republicans themselves that has been the main obstacle to any meaningful immigration reform — even when it was pushed by President Bush.

Look at the facts. The last time Congress considered an overhaul of immigration policy, in 2007, it was Republicans, not Democrats, who blocked it. In the key vote on the measure in the Senate, 37 of 49 Republican senators abandoned Bush and voted against reform, while two-thirds of Democratic senators voted in favor.

When the DREAM Act was put to a test during Congress’s lame duck session in 2010, the tally was even more lopsided. House Republicans opposed it, 160 to 8, while House Democrats supported it, 208 to 38. (The vote was similarly one-sided in the Senate.)

So Republicans, having proved that they will block anything resembling an immigration overhaul, now blame Obama for failing to achieve it. To make sense of this, think of Al Capone blaming the cops for failing to clean up Chicago.

None of this will convince many voters. But Republicans don’t need to win the Hispanic vote; they just need to prevent a Hispanic landslide for Obama. Obama won the Hispanic vote by better than 2-to-1 in 2008. If Inclan and other Republicans can Etch A Sketch Romney’s position, and that of most Republican lawmakers in Congress and state capitals, that may be enough to whittle Obama’s Hispanic advantage down to 60 percent. And that could easily tilt a close election.

By  |  10:31 AM ET, 05/09/2012

 
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