MSNBC political reporter Benjy Sarlin has written a sharp deconstruction of the Republican Party's evolving attitude towards Latino voters. The shock of Mitt Romney's 2012 loss and the resulting calls for Latino outreach from conservatives have given way to old habits: namely, consolidating the white vote and keep hoping that's enough to propel the GOP to electoral victory. Fox News' Sean Hannity, who memorably claimed the day after the election that he'd "evolved" on immigration reform, now rejects reform and the idea that Republicans need Latinos to win.
This shift in attitudes comes just a few months after the Republican National Committee (RNC) unveiled its surprisingly harsh 2012 post-mortem, which endorsed comprehensive immigration reform as a way to expand the party's appeal. "If we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them, and show our sincerity," the report counseled. As I wrote at the time, the RNC's ambition for party rebranding, whatever its merits, faced a daunting obstacle: Rush Limbaugh and the coterie of lesser radio hosts who form the rigid spine of the conservative media apparatus. And by all indications, Limbaugh is prevailing.
Even as Hannity and other conservatives (temporarily) fell prey to post-election demography panic, Limbaugh never budged. "I don't know that there's any stopping this," Limbaugh said of immigration reform shortly after Obama's reinauguration. "It's up to me and Fox News, and I don't think Fox News is that invested in this." Funnily enough, Limbaugh was on Fox News just this morning to talk politics, and afterward he disclosed on the radio that he "told the people at Fox that I wanted to talk about" immigration and the GOP, "and they wouldn't do it. They were not interested in bringing this subject up."
The schism among conservatives on how to approach immigration reform and Latino voters in general isn't going away, but the biggest guns are and always have been on the side of the status quo: do nothing policy-wise and continue stoking fears over "illegal immigration" to try and drive sufficient numbers of resentful white voters to the polls. It's worked for Republicans in the past and a big reason behind its success has been the enthusiastic efforts of Rush Limbaugh and right-wing radio. As Sarlin notes, the anti-immigration groups working to kill the reform legislation have the ears of talk radio hosts and are successfully promulgating the message that the Republican Party does not need Latino voters.
It's precisely the sort of closed off, self-reinforcing ideological loop the RNC warned against in its report: "We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue." But so long as anti-immigrant demagoguery keeps people tuning in to the AM radio dial, any attempt at Republican "rebranding" won't stand much of a chance.