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The Three Amigos on Immigration: Reps. Smith (TX), Gallegly (CA), and King (IA)

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The leaders of House Mass Deportation Caucus, Reps. Smith, Gallegly, and King, are not only driving the GOP immigration strategy, they are driving their party off of a political cliff.

Those “Three Amigos” are proving to be the GOP’s lead strategists not only on immigration reform –  but Latino politics. Saner heads have tried to prevail on the Republican side, but to no avail. The efforts of Jeb Bush, Tom Ridge, and even Newt Gingrich to get the Republican Party to move away from anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric alienating Hispanic voters has hit a brick wall -- built by Smith, Gallegly and King.

Based on the recent House hearings on immigration and their frequent press statements, the Three Amigos seem to be pursuing a two-pronged strategy: 1) promote legislation that they hope will drive millions of immigrants out of the country; and 2) convince Republicans that Latino support for the GOP is increasing - in part because of their harsh policies towards immigrants.

Somewhere, smart Republicans -- those who understand that the only way to retake the White House is to win 40% of the Latino vote -- are wincing.  This dual strategy is going to drive away Latino voters for decades. Anyone who doesn't think so should ask former Governor Pete Wilson how Proposition 187 worked for the GOP's Latino recruitment effort.

Rep. Smith is glowingly depicted in a new George Will column as "immigration's taskmaster" and in favor of "attrition through enforcement."  That's the new catch-phrase pushed by the nativist Tanton network. But what does "attrition through enforcement" really mean?  It means ramping up enforcement at all levels so that life becomes so unbearable for undocumented immigrants that those who don't get picked up and deported pick up and leave on their own.  In other words, Rep. Smith wants 11 million undocumented immigrants forced out of the country.  A more honest name for this strategy is "mass deportation."

Moreover, Rep. Smith portrays himself not only as an expert on immigration solutions, but as an expert on the Latino vote.  Yesterday, Smith took to the editorial pages of the Washington Times to make his case:

Critics say pro-enforcement policies harm the Republican Party's future with Hispanic voters, but the facts prove otherwise.

The November midterm election results repudiated the open-borders philosophy and revealed a promising future for the Republican Party. Exit polls showed 38 percent of Hispanic voters cast ballots for House Republican candidates. This historically high level of Hispanic support for Republican candidates came despite widespread pre-election claims by advocates for illegal immigration that a new Arizona immigration law and a pro-rule-of-law stand would undercut Hispanic support for Republicans.

In a recent Washington Post op-ed, Smith boldly asserted, "the 2010 election actually paints a very bright picture of the Republican Party's relations with this country's growing Hispanic population."

If Republicans want to let Smith be their chief strategist on the Latino vote, they better check his numbers. Rep. Smith's "analysis" ignored the key fact that Latinos proved to be the firewall in the West that saved the Senate for the Democrats. Also, his "analysis" used exit poll numbers, which are very good at predicting overall outcomes but terrible at capturing the voting behavior of Latino voters. For example, the exit polls in Nevada said Sharron Angle received 30% of the Latino vote and that in 2008 John McCain won 22% of the Latino vote.  The idea that Sharron Angle out-performed John McCain with Hispanics is literally incredible.

The most reliable numbers come from an election eve poll of 3,200 Latino voters by Latino Decisions, a group that specializes in reaching Latino voters.  They found that Latinos averaged only 24% support for Republicans in 2010 in generic two-party voting for the House of Representatives.  Latinos voted 90-8% in favor of Harry Reid over Sharron Angle in NV Senate; 84-15% for Rory Reid over Brian Sandoval in NV Governor; 86-13% for Jerry Brown over Meg Whitman in CA Governor; 86-14% for Barbara Boxer over Carly Fiorina in CA Senate; and 81-19% for Michael Bennet over Ken Buck in CO Senate.  According to the polling, for Latinos, immigration ranked as the second most important issue after jobs and the economy, with 60% of Latino voters saying it was either "the most important" or "one of the most important" factors in their voting decision. The outlier was in Florida, where Marco Rubio received 62% of the Latino vote in the three-way Senate race, based largely on his strength within Florida's Cuban community.

In a recent tracking poll by Latino Decision, only 9% say they will vote for Obama's Republican challenger in 2012 (8% said they might).  As Pilar Marrero put it:

This is one of the lowest levels of support obtained by the Republicans in recent years, and far less than the 40% a GOP candidate would need to make a difference in key states to become president."

Not to be outdone, Rep. Elton Gallegly recently offered his own take on analysis of Latino voting habits. On February 15, 2011, Markos Moulitsas wrote a column in The Hill titled, “GOP's Latino Problem.” The first line set the tone:

"There was nothing but bad news for Republicans in the Census data released last week."

Gallegly took exception. Donning his political pundit persona, the Congressman opined, "Republican support is growing among Hispanic voters because Republicans agree with U.S. citizens of Hispanic descent that illegal immigration hurts all Americans." Markos used census numbers to make his point. On the other hand, Gallegly cited no actual facts to back up his argument - probably because none exist.

As a Californian, Gallegly really should know better. Remember last year when pundits were thinking we'd see Governor Meg Whitman and Senator Carly Fiorina in 2011? Both of them veered to the hardright on immigration - and suffered at the polls (as noted above, their Latino support was 14% and 19% respectively.) Besides the political cost, Gallegly's mass deportation strategy would have a devastating impact on California's already tenuous economy, besides ripping apart families.

Smith and Gallegly, along with the notorious and ubiquitous Rep. Steve King, are making news regularly with a series of hearings that try to put a new spin on their mass deportation fantasy.  The problem for them is that the news they are making is mostly reported in Spanish.  For the first two hearings of the year, 61% of the media coverage showed up in the Spanish language media.  Despite what Latino pundits Smith and Gallegly think, that really isn't good for the GOP. 

While Reps. Smith, Gallegly, and King remain the Party's face on immigration for most Latino voters, some interesting voices from elsewhere in the Party are starting to pipe up.  Just last week, presumed 2012 Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich said:

We have a huge challenge - what do you do with the human beings who are engaged, some of whom are married, have children? It's a very complicated situation, and I don't you think you can just wave a magic wand and have some kind of a simple, clean answer."

He also called out opponents of the DREAM Act, saying: "They're going to take somebody who came here at 3 years of age, who doesn't speak Spanish and who just graduated from a high school in Texas, and they're going to say to him, 'We're going to deport you.'  That's certainly their prerogative. I don't think the country will go for that. I think that's so lax in a concern for the human beings involved."

Public Opinion Strategies, a leading Republican polling firm, recently issued a preview of the 2012 political landscape.  In a look at the presidential race, among their points includes the following per Politico: "Republicans cannot afford to lose the Latino vote by 30%+ as they did in 2008."  GOP pollster Whit Ayres, added that the most discouraging piece of data for the party ahead of 2012 is the GOP's difficulty with Hispanic voters.

If we lose the fastest-growing, largest minority group like we lost them in 2008, it's going to be pretty tough in places like Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona.

Earlier this week, George W. Bush's first Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, also a former Republican Governor of Pennsylvania, said:

At some point in time you've got to say to yourself, 'We're not sending 12 million people home.Let's get over it...We're not going to send them home, so let's just figure out a way to legitimize their status, create a new system, and I think that will add more to border security than any number of fences we can put across the border.

Clearly, Smith, Gallegly and King aren't listening to Gingrich, Ridge or the polls.

As Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson recently wrote, continuing to follow the Three Amigos' advice on Latino outreach will be disastrous for the GOP in future elections:

The Republicans since November have doubled down on their anti-immigrant jihad - rejecting the Dream Act during the lame-duck congressional session, continuing to call for more mass deportations and the denial of birthright citizenship.  Where once a sizable number of Republican legislators (and President George W. Bush) were open to immigration reform, hardly any even broach the topic today amid the ever-rightward gallop of the GOP's voting base, which itself grows whiter every year.

Meyerson noted the potential consequences for the GOP in states such as Texas, writing, "to read the newly released census data on the Lone Star State is to understand that Texas, the linchpin of any Republican electoral college majority, is turning Latino and, unless the Republicans change their spots, Democratic."

Cross-posted at America's Voice and Daily Kos.