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Big Tent, Little Tent

February 24, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Little tent

An interesting pair of articles appeared in the Washington Post on February 21. 

In the first, Dana Milbank reported on the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, where each year Republican Presidential hopefuls attempt to woo participants of this gathering of the right and the far right. 

Glenn Beck gave a keynote speech at the end of the conference, in which he demanded that Republicans admit they are "addicted to spending and big government."

"But as of yet I haven't heard anyone say that," Beck added. "All they're talking about is: 'We need a big tent. We need a big tent. Can we get a bigger tent? How can we get a big tent?' "

"What is this, a circus?"

A couple of pages later, there was an article, "Republicans look to rebuild their traction with Hispanic voters."  In that article, the essence of the problem was summed up in this paragraph:

After back-to-back hammerings in the 2006 and 2008 elections, the GOP is trying to figure out how it slid so far behind with Hispanic voters. With their traditional white-male base shrinking, Republican strategists talk with increasing urgency about wooing Hispanics, who are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population and who vote mostly Democratic.

The root of the GOP's problem, appeared a few paragraphs later.

The most vexing problem is the immigration debate, in which hard-liners and "tea party" activists have alienated many Hispanics with their harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric.

It is the same activists who express contempt for Republican party efforts to expand their tent that have pushed Hispanic voters to the Democrats.

The article has plenty of statistics showing the rapid rise of the Hispanic vote and the impact the immigration debate has had in swinging that vote away from Republicans.  Here's one:

Bush received 54 percent of the non-Hispanic white vote in 2000 and finished in a dead heat with Al Gore. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) got 55 percent of that vote in 2008 and lost the election by seven percentage points.

America's Voice recently released a paper on the power of the Latino vote.  The paper contains polling data that helps explain why Latino voters, not just undocumented immigrants who can't vote anyway, are upset by the heated rhetoric on immigration.  It is the closeness of the immigration experience that makes immigration reform, and how politicians talk about it, a threshold issue.  This is a point the Post article makes as well.

Adrian Garcia … is a Democrat who thinks Republicans did lasting damage to their brand, particularly among young Hispanic voters who are experiencing politics -- and choosing sides -- for the first time. "Immigration has galvanized the emerging generation, and they see it very clearly," said Garcia, whose parents and siblings were born in Mexico. "This is personal. It is personal to the fastest-growing community and to the next generation of community leaders."

According to America's Voice, "82% of Latino voters said that the immigration issue is important to them and their families, and 69% said that they personally know someone who is undocumented."  When politicians show contempt for undocumented immigrants, the friends and family of those undocumented immigrants—many of whom are citizens—feel it.  America's Voice cites a national survey of Latino voters, which found that 87% of Latino voters say "they would not consider voting for a candidate who was in favor of forcing most of the undocumented population to leave the country."

People no matter who they are like being treated with a little respect.  The Republican party right now is in the midst of a tug-of-war between those who are trying to bring new constituencies into the fold and those who are looking for groups of people on whom they can unload their vitriol.  It might be great fun to watch a bunch of entertainers get the crowd worked up about THE ILLEGAL INVASION.  Trouble is, those entertainers are loyal to an idea of America that has long ceased to exist.  They will keep up their performance until there is not much of a crowd left to work up.  Politicians who are seduced by that performance might find themselves in a very small tent indeed.

Image by Flickr user basheem.

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