09/28/2011 07:52 am ET Updated Nov 28, 2011

GOP Candidates Escalate Immigration Attacks, Decrease Chance To Win in 2012

In case you haven't noticed, GOP 2012 candidates have been escalating their anti-immigration rhetoric over the past few weeks. Most of the fire is aimed at Texas Governor Rick Perry. Apparently the hope among the other candidates, led by Mitt Romney, is that the immigration issue will kill Perry's chances with the hard-core tea party base.

But, Romney and the others should be careful what they wish for. If past is prologue, their attacks could very well kill the Party's chances of beating Obama in the general election.

When will they ever learn? Over the weekend, columnist Ruben Navarrette wrote:

The Republican Party has dug itself an awfully deep hole with Latino voters. And every time a Republican talks about immigration, the hole gets a little deeper.

That includes nearly all the 2012 Republican presidential candidates.

Sure does. Mitt Romney has taken charge of digging that hole - and it's going to get a lot deeper. According to POLITICO, a "Romney campaign research document coming out later highlights similarities between Perry and Obama on immigration policy...The Romney camp tastes blood in the water." Romney and the other Republican presidential contenders are following a well-trodden and politically perilous path when it comes to the politics of immigration. They lurch hard right during the primary in search of base voters and in the process of doing so make themselves radioactive with the fastest growing group of voters in the nation - Hispanics. It seems Romney and others want to follow the path of other political successes such as Governor Meg Whitman, Governor Tom Tancredo and Senator Sharron Angle. Romney's shameless pandering might work to help defeat Rick Perry for the nomination, but it also might help defeat Mitt Romney in the general election. The road to the White House goes right through Latino neighborhoods, especialIy in the swing states of Florida, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico. It is widely accepted that the GOP nominee will have to win 40% of the Hispanic vote nationwide to have a chance to win the general. If Romney continues to make the outlandish and fact-free claim that educating kids who came to America in diapers through no fault of their own is an incentive for illegal immigration, he would be lucky to win 20% of the Hispanic vote in 2012. Let's just say, attacking the Texas DREAM Act or young people who just want a chance to go to college or serve in the military is not a winning strategy. As Matt Barreto from Latino Decisions pointed out, "Looking to 2012, it is clear that immigration and the DREAM Act will still be on the minds of Latino voters." Even more remarkable is the accusation by Romney that Perry is a moderate on the issue. He is not. Perry is against comprehensive immigration reform and the federal DREAM Act, spouts the same border-first nonsense as the other candidates, and has pushed for harsh enforcement-only laws in Texas. But the rest of the Republican field is driving so fast and furious to the right that Perry appears moderate in comparison. The fact is, today's Republican Party that has lurched so far right on immigration that true moderates, such as President Ronald Reagan and President George W. Bush, would get booed off the Republican stage in 2011. In doing so, Party leaders seem unable or unwilling to learn the lessons of 2006, 2008, or 2010 elections in which tacking hard right in the primaries cost Hispanic support in the general. We know the immigration-based attacks are going to get uglier. The fact that Mitt Romney would say anything to win isn't anything new. But, given the growing power of the Latino vote, the fact that Romney is trying to use immigration to secure the Republican nomination, and painting himself into a corner, is astounding. Rather than consulting with Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Mitt should talk to Meg Whitman. In 2010, she tried hard to move back to the center during the general election after adopting hard-core immigration views in the GOP primary. That's why she's the new CEO of H-P and not the Governor of California. It's pretty clear that the nativist inmates are running the Republican asylum. But where are those responsible Republican party leaders, like Karl Rove and Jeb Bush? They know immigrant-bashing is a dangerous path - and know that it's both the right thing and the smart thing to do to stand up to the hard-right pandering. Are they afraid they might get booed, too? In the face of such ugly intolerance and hostility to Latinos in the nomination race, their silence is deafening.