Almost every national poll indicates that a majority of Americans continue to support the controversial immigration law recently passed in Arizona. The Arizona state legislature and Governor Jan Brewer's swift signing of the bill upstaged a lethargic federal government and highlighted the ability of states to enact their own laws when dire situations so require. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that his Justice Department planned to file suit against the Arizona law, signaling the Obama administration’s willingness to continue to expand federalism to unprecedented levels.
More important than the national polls, an even greater number of bipartisan Arizonans support the recent legislation. Horrific violence, an out of control illegal drug trade and lax border security appear to have overwhelmed Arizonans of both parties. (The massive amount of entitlement money the state is forced to spend on its illegal immigrants likely doesn’t help the cause either.)
Unfortunately, however, the bold steps taken by the Grand Canyon State's legislature and executive branch may prove that good local policy does not always make for good national politics.
It's no secret that Latinos are the fastest growing demographic in the United States. By all measures, Latinos should ideologically fall into the more conservative Republican ranks. They are (on the whole) family oriented, religious in nature, hard working, and culturally conservative. However, the recent immigration law (or more appropriately, the spin reacting to the law) may be sending them in exactly the wrong direction--to the Democratic Party. If it is to continue, this trend does not bode well for Republicans hoping to re-take the White House in 2012.
None other than George W. Bush and Karl Rove recognized the importance of courting Latino voters early in Bush’s presidency. As a former governor of a state with a large Latino population, Bush understood the value of broadening the conservative coalition to include Latinos. For better or worse, however, that tactical strategy has not held. Latinos continue to defect to the Democratic Party in record numbers.
The political realities of this shift are ominous: the traditional swing states will undoubtedly play a large role in the 2012 race. The Electoral College numbers are so stacked against a Republican candidate. (New York and California contain more than one third of the electoral votes a presidential candidate requires for election.) In addition to running the table in every swing state, the GOP nominee must win at least three of the four Colorado River Valley states (Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado) if Republicans are to defeat Barack Obama in 2012. Not surprisingly, legal Latino voters could well determine the fate of the next presidential election. Democratic political leaders are using the recent Arizona immigration law to inflame Latino sentiment and convince these citizens that the Democratic Party is their more suitable political home.
There are faint glimmers of hope. New Mexico Republicans recently nominated Susana Martinez, a Latina known for her tough stance on border security, as their candidate for governor in 2010. Moreover, there are organized groups composed of legal Latino immigrants, pushing for law and order, border security, and a comprehensive but fair immigration policy.
Accusations abound that for decades Democratic politicians have sought to create a permanent voting bloc by extending entitlement benefits to an increasing number of voters. Republicans, both nationally and in Arizona, now face the converse of that allegation on the issue of immigration: stick to their guns and enforce a tough immigration law favored by the majority of Americans, or moderate their stance on the law and hope that doing so garners them greater political support among the Latino voting base.
As a Republican, one can only hope the task does not prove Sisyphean.