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Hayworth, Norquist and CPAC: The Republican Fork in the Road on Immigration

04/21/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Republicans are facing a major fork in the road on immigration, highlighted this week at CPAC (the major conservative conference in DC right now).

Does the GOP choose the backward-looking, anti-immigrant route led by former Congressman, now Senate candidate J.D. Hayworth, or the path toward real immigration solutions, led by Grover Norquist, who is supporting Hayworth’s primary opponent John McCain?

Hayworth is among the most egregious examples of the failure of the anti-immigration wedge strategy.  Nevertheless, he had a prominent role at CPAC yesterday. Dave Weigel reports that Hayworth was a “CPAC Superstar.”  In addition to speaking on a panel, he introduced an anti-immigrant movie, Border War: The Battle Over Illegal Immigration.

Here’s the trailer for the controversial film, in which Hayworth makes an appearance:

A little history on Hayworth: In 2006, Hayworth lost his House seat to Democrat Harry Mitchell. In the run-up to the election, Hayworth published an anti-immigration screed entitled, Whatever it Takes.  But his zealotry clearly hurt him, not only with Latinos voters, but with swing voters who found his obsessive focus on illegal immigration off-putting.  He found out the hard way that making yourself a leader of the anti-immigrant crowd is a fool’s errand, for their bark is much greater than their bite.

With apologies to the definition of insanity, Hayworth is at it again.  In his Senate race Hayworth welcomed early endorsements from notorious anti-immigration crusaders Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Minuteman Civil Defense Corps co-founder Chris Simcox. We’ve also learned recently that Hayworth seems to be legitimizing the whacko “birther” movment, elevated by many in the far right fringe, who can’t seem to grasp that a black man is President.  There’s even more background on Hayworth in a briefing released yesterday by the organization I founded and head, America’s Voice. It’s called, “J.D. Hayworth - Leading the GOP Into a Political Wilderness on Immigration.”

Meanwhile, some in the conservative movement have a different approach.  As Think Progress reports, in addition to the Hayworth events, there was a competing panel or two at CPAC.  One panel, entitled The Rise of Latino Conservatism, was sponsored by the American Principles Project’s (APP) Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles. According to the organization’s founder, the group supports a “generous and welcoming immigration policy,” and rejects “a conservatism that is anti-Latino” and “not one that we want any part of.”

The panelists included Grover Norquist, actress Karyme Lozano, Alfonso Aguilar (who headed Citizenship and Immigration Services under President George W. Bush) and Mario H. Lopez, president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund. Based on the liveblog of the panel by TexasGOPVote, immigration and immigrant-bashing were key topics.  Mario Lopez explained the political consequences for his fellow conservatives:

Lopez said that this harsh anti-immigration rhetoric affected 44 electoral votes in the 2008 election and is why we have Obama as our president now. When Tom Tancredo was asked what he thought about losing the Latino conservative vote, all he had to say was "So be it."

So, which side will win the intra-party fight?  Stay tuned. Speaking for the “so be it” caucus, Michelle Malkin assailed the efforts of Grover Norquist to lead the conservative movement out of the nativist jungle – in her usual understated manner:

To borrow a signature phrase of the Tea Party movement, it’s time to be silent no more. Open-borders Norquist is backing shamnesty ringleader John McCain in Arizona and pushing a new “comprehensive immigration reform”/illegal alien amnesty II initiative.

What’s happening at CPAC is a microcosm of the debate that’s taking place in the Republican Party. And while the immigrant bashers remain ascendant for now, the Hayworth-Tancredo-Malkin axis may just be the gift that keeps giving for progressives.  According to today’s Washington Post:

The U.S. Hispanic population is expected to increase by nearly 200 percent by 2050, with non-Hispanic whites comprising about half the nation's population, down from 69.4 percent in 2000. From 1988 to 2008, the number of eligible Hispanic voters rose 21 percent -- from 16.1 million to 19.5 million.

"The numbers don't lie," said Whit Ayres, a GOP consultant. "If Republicans don't do better among Hispanics, we're not going to be talking about how to get Florida back in the Republican column, we're going to be talking about how not to lose Texas."