Jose de la Isla: Unless the Republican Party chooses to become a permanent minority party, it would be smart to heed the path set by President Richard Nixon in 1969 to expand the electoral base.
Unless the Republican Party chooses to become a permanent minority party, it would be smart to heed the path set by President Richard Nixon in 1969 to expand the electoral base. Ford, Reagan, Bush, Bush II and John McCain, to a greater or lesser extent, followed in those footsteps to encourage Hispanic constituents and community leaders to try out the Republican Party.
In the formative years, Republicans especially appealed to portions of the Latino middle and upper-middle classes, entrepreneurs and upwardly mobile professionals. It was the party that identified them with a type of individualism that differentiated Latinos by group affinity, instead of the hard edge identity politics that Democrats appealed to.
Unfortunately, the Republican Hispanic tradition may have ended when former House majority leader (1995-2003) Dick Armey helped create the Tea Party movement as a vehicle to voice anger and frustration at Washington. The populism, with tinges of nativism and Know-Nothingism, is turning into a Frankenstein monster, especially when it runs off moderate Republicans, Latinos among them.
Former Republican Congressman Henry Bonilla was quoted in the Washington Post as saying if Republicans "don't go out and bring more Hispanics to our party, the math isn't there to win, no matter what the other side does."
That warning is mild when considering whether the party is now permanently dysfunctional because of its permissiveness with fringe groups, which suck up time, have no reform interests, nor expansion possibilities -- just anger. Their problem is a little like cigarette smoking. At first it's just a habit, but then it becomes a cancer.
The Republicans' biggest achievement occurred when George W. Bush received about 42 percent of the nationwide Latino vote in the 2000 presidential election. The Republican low point came in 2008, when Hispanics overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama in key electoral states.
Sandwiched in between was 2006, when the nation came close to getting immigration reform through the U.S. Senate. When the Tea Party's predecessor, the Minute Man movement, bombarded senators with complaints, e-mails, phone calls and demonstrations, they scared the bejesus out of key legislators and into inaction.
The Tea Party is much like its noisy predecessor. But many of the most zealous House members, who supported draconian legislation attempting to criminalize many undocumented immigrants and their families, retired or were voted out of office in 2006.
Republicans now have a real problem on their hands, thanks to their affiliations with the Tea Party and the Minute Man movements. It's possible they cannot make any more significant inroads into the Hispanic ranks. And without Hispanics, Republicans cannot become a majority party.
The Tea Party protester who yelled "Go back to Mexico" to U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D--TX) in late March did not go unnoticed. Add the epithets and slurs and 15 serious threats made against members of Congress in the last quarter of 2009, jumping to 42 the first quarter of 2010, is the kind of politics most constituents want to run away from.
Nor can it be ignored that even when trying to commemorate civil rights and labor leader Cesar Chavez's 83rd birthday anniversary, the benign resolution introduced on March 31 by Democratic U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (NJ) was blocked for the fourth consecutive year from getting a routine Unanimous Consent adoption. The intransigence suggests Republican leaders are going out of their way to be spiteful.
These acts of meanness also represent political derangement, given the political reality that they need to cozy up to, not alienate, Hispanic constituents.
Therein lies the problem for serious Republicans: how to take the barbed arrow out of the heart of the party that the fringe groups represent.
When Richard M. Nixon was forced to resign the presidency, he said in his farewell remarks to the cabinet and staff: "Always remember others may hate you but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself."
It seems the Republican Party and its leadership has a way to go even to reach the standards of a discredited president.
Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.