Amid the scandal-mania, it has gone somewhat under the radar that the Florida state director of Hispanic outreach for the Republican National Committee, Pablo Pantoja, recently resigned his position and left the GOP. Indeed, Pantoja changed his party affiliation to Democrat.
His reasoning is straightforward: For all the focus on outreach to Latinos, Pantoja wrote, there is a “culture of intolerance surrounding the Republican Party.” In an e-mail that has been posted online, he cited the recent media reports on the writings of a former scholar at the Heritage Foundation, Jason Richwine, who had theorized that “No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against.”
Although Heritage distanced itself from those assertions, Pantoja wrote, “other immigration-related research is still padded with the same racist and eugenics-based innuendo.”
It’s not hard to find examples of prominent Republicans using racially loaded terms such as “anchor babies” and “illegals.” The GOP presidential primaries were soaked with derogatory rhetoric toward immigrants, and one candidate — Texas Gov. Rick Perry — began sliding toward defeat after he expressed sympathy for the children of unauthorized immigrants.
Pantoja’s departure from the Republican Party illustrates not only the dynamic of the past four years — when Latino voters responded to negative Republican rhetoric by moving toward the Democratic camp — but also the potential dynamic of the next decade. As my Post colleague Greg Sargent noted this week, conservative Republicans in the Senate are preparing to introduce a variety of “poison pill” amendments to the immigration bill designed to make the package unpalatable to supporters. For their part, House Republicans have yet to offer support to a comprehensive bill.
The combination of right-wing rhetoric and pronouncements from figures like Richwine have created the perception of racialized opposition to immigration reform in which attempts to kill the legislation stem from bigotry. If the bill fails, it could further damage GOP relations with Hispanic voters, possibly for another generation. For Republican supporters of immigration reform, there is no option but passage.
The good news is that immigration reform is still possible, as key Republicans such as Sen. Marco Rubio, Fla., remain behind the proposal. But they need to break through right-wing opposition.
Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer at The American Prospect, where he writes a blog.