The Cancer Killing the GOP

05/25/2010 11:09 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Fernando Espuelas Univision America Host & contributor to NPR, The Hill, FoxNews Latino and other media

In spite of minor stumbles, like last week's loss of a special election to replace Congressman John Murtha, the GOP seeks to reap the rewards from our national anxiety. November, this narrative goes, will be a banner election season for the Republican Party and position it for a 2012 White House win as well.

This scenario may indeed happen. This year could be the first step in recovering from a series of painful elections, such as 2006 and 2008, which saw dramatic Democratic victories. The pendulum could be swinging back.

But that is the short term, potential reality. What about the longer view? What about the future of the Republican Party?

Tea Party radicalism aside, the real threat to the Republicans' long term viability is its increasingly rancid appeal to racial politics. In a mutated version of Richard Nixon's famous "Southern Strategy," Republicans across the country have sought electoral victories by resorting to immigrant bashing.

While these attacks are coded as standing up against the supposed devastation caused by "illegals," they are in fact Latino bashing with a faux legalistic veneer.

Sadly, the Party of Lincoln has become affected by a moral cancer: using the politics of division and racial hatred to win elections - even if the very concept is antithetical to the party's own roots and traditions.

Three examples stand out. In Arizona, former comprehensive immigration reform champion John McCain is in a real reelection fight with former GOP Congressman J.D. Hayworth. Their debate has now descended into a barrage of pronouncements about which candidate is the toughest on immigration issues. If taken literally, their rhetoric implies that America's single biggest problem is the growing threat of illegal immigration. So much for the "Global War on Terrorism."

In California, GOP gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner, who until a few weeks ago was down more than 20 points in the polls, has drawn almost even with billionaire candidate Meg Whitman. What drove his new momentum? Poizner launched an aggressive attack on the supposed cause of California's budget crisis: undocumented workers.

In response, Whitman has taken out of the GOP closet former Governor Pete Wilson. He is widely reviled by Latinos for his Proposition 187, which among other things, sought to keep undocumented children from attending schools. Wilson is now vouching for Whitman -- he recorded a spot in which he informed the electorate that Whitman would be a "gutsy leader" . Gutsy about what goes unsaid but understood -- she's going to be tough on immigration.

Poizner's apparent success with immigrant bashing has in turn encouraged local politicians to use the same strategy. Allan Mansoor, the Mayor of Orange County's City of Costa Mesa, recently declared his intention of creating a mini Arizona in his city. Mansoor's strident anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions are now the basis of his run for the California Assembly -- in a district that has historically gone Republican by wide margins.

As Mansoor writes in his campaign website: "I'll fight gangs, drugs, and illegal immigration to make sure our families can live in peace." This conflating of "gangs, drugs and illegal immigration" is once again varnished code -- the real problem for Mansoor are the "illegals".

Immigrant bashing may work to fuel Republican-base voter enthusiasm, but the demographic reality of the United States will not change because of it.

Today, roughly 25% of American teenagers are Latino. In California, one half of all babies born are Latino. The baby boomers are starting to exit the stage and will be replaced by a new generation of Americans, many of them of Latino descent.

In 2008, Latinos gave Barack Obama winning margins in key states. If John McCain had won a similar percentage of Latino votes as George W. Bush received in 2004, it is likely that McCain would be president today.

Anti-immigrant rhetoric aside, the economic viability of the United States in this century will be maintained by a growing population. In a fascinating CIA report made public in 2001, many of the world's major powers are projected to experience significant and potentially devastating population declines this century. These demographic implosions -- which will hit countries like Russia, Germany and Italy -- will severely test their economic viability and surely will impact their relative geopolitical power.

In the same CIA report, the United States is projected to grow and prosper, as a young population and healthy flows of projected new immigrants keep the national economic growth engine -- and our world hegemony -- viable into the next century.

While immigrant bashing may be good electoral politics in 2010 -- Arizona's Governor Jan Brewer is now, after signing immigration law, ahead in the polls for her reelection -- it is a loser long-term for the GOP.

All you have to do is look at the state of the Republican Party in California after Pete Wilson. If indeed the adage that as California goes so goes the nation is true, then the Republicans are increasingly looking like the new Whigs.

Latinos in California have largely abandoned the GOP, flocked to the Democrats, resulting in a highly polarized state with a Republican Party that is almost exclusively white, and a Democratic Party that connects with the mosaic of immigrant communities and their American descendants across California.

Pete Wilson is the Democratic Party's best argument for why Republicans cannot be trusted on immigration issues in California. Should Meg Whitman triumph in the primary battle against Poizner, she will be seen as an extension of Pete Wilson -- and will have a tremendous challenge in capturing enough Latino support to be elected.

Count on Jerry Brown to remind immigrant communities that Whitman is a Pete Wilson protege -- over and over again.

Voters have long memories. Latinos will not forget that we have been the target of scapegoating attacks like Steve Poizner's and become the Arizona GOP establishment's idee fixe for what ails that state.

Karl Rove, not exactly the world's most sentimental man, has voiced his concern over the Arizona law. Rove was one of the Republican strategists that sought, through the Bush immigration reform efforts of 2006 and 2007, to permanently realign Latino voter preference behind the GOP.

Rove, and other clear eyed Party strategists, can do the demographic math and see the inevitable shrinking of the GOP unless it expands beyond its aging white supporters.

As the 2010 mid-term election play out, and it is not at all certain that Republicans will fulfill their ambitions to recapture the U.S. House of Representatives and chip away the Democrat's Senate majority, it will be time to start focusing on how to save the Republican Party from the moral cancer that is now slowly killing it.