Conservatives Try to Woo Latinos to GOP and Republicans to Immigration Reform Camp

U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio from Florida speaks at CPAC - Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio from Florida speaks at CPAC. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

The Conservative Political Action Conference this weekend in Washington illustrated the conundrum Republicans face when considering the immigration issue against the backdrop of a growing Hispanic electorate. While most conservatives still adhere to the accustomed recipe of more restrictive policies and fighting against “amnesty” for the undocumented, some right-wing activists have started advocating a new approach to woo Latinos with a mix of conservative moral values and immigration reform.

At CPAC, a new group called the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles hosted a panel where it promoted attracting socially-conservative Hispanics to the GOP column in future elections and –a bit counterintuitively– convincing Republicans that immigration reform is not a bad thing.

The partnership “will campaign among Latino voters and invest substantial resources to support pro-immigration candidates who are committed to fundamental conservative values and ideals,” it said in a press release (opens pdf file).

The group’s proposals –supported by prominent conservative organizer Grover Norquist— spurred a withering critique from former anti-immigration presidential candidate Tom Tancredo, in an online column under the headline “CPAC betrays America on immigration.”

Tancredo wrote:

“Whereas grass-roots conservatives and millions of 912 patriots – along with 80 percent of the American people – understand the need for border security as a precondition for immigration reform, CPAC board member Grover Norquist is busy launching a new project in support of the Obama administration’s plan to grant another amnesty to 20 million illegal aliens.”

Tancredo’s restrictive position is the one Republicans have most often expressed in recent years. But conservatives are not blind to the growth of the Hispanic electorate.

“If current demographic and voting trends continue, Hispanics’ growing share of the electorate could make Republican electoral college victories a near impossibility as early as 2020,” a Wall Street Journal article warned Monday.

Whit Ayres, a Republican consultant, told The Washington Post: “If Republicans don’t do better among Hispanics, we’re not going to be talking about how to get Florida back in the Republican column, we’re going to be talking about how not to lose Texas.”

“What’s happening at CPAC is a microcosm of the debate that’s taking place in the Republican Party,” wrote pro-immigration reform activist Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, in The Huffington Post.

“And while the immigrant bashers remain ascendant for now –Sharry said–, the Hayworth-Tancredo-Malkin axis may just be the gift that keeps giving for progressives.”

That may be just so: the Journal noted that even a Hispanic candidate as Cuban-American Marco Rubio, running for the U.S. Senate in Florida, is courting “anti-illegal immigration advocates” by taking extreme right positions on the issue.

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