Democrats are on a mission to undercut John McCain’s support with Hispanic voters, by hook or by crook.
Now that Barack Obama is the presumptive party nominee, Democrats are terrified they could lose Hispanic voters. During the primaries, those voters went for Hillary Clinton by a 2-to-1 margin. There are questions about whether Hispanics will fall in line behind Obama in November, or throw their support to McCain. It doesn’t help Democrats that McCain did incredibly well with that population in his reelection campaigns in Arizona, earning as much as 70 percent of the Hispanic vote.
So Democrats are trying to prevent those defections by portraying McCain to Hispanics as just another opportunistic, fear-mongering, nativist Republican who offers nothing more than sound bites and simple solutions. They want to paint him as missing-in-action on immigration, as someone who backed off earlier efforts to push for comprehensive reform that includes earned legalization for the documented. They might even go so far as to paint him as a clone of Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-CO, a short-lived presidential candidate who helped give the immigration debate its distinctively anti-Hispanic flavor.
Good luck. McCain has made plenty of enemies over the immigration issue, but they’re all on the Right. It’s conservatives who resent McCain for depicting them as bigots who are willing to trash the country’s immigrant tradition to scare up votes.
And, speaking of bigots, comparing McCain to Tancredo? That sheet won’t fit. The two men have tangled too many times. In fact, during one of the earlier presidential debates, Tancredo was asked what it meant to be an American and gave an answer tied to speaking English and blending into the mainstream culture. McCain responded that Tancredo’s views were “beyond my realm of thinking.”
That was a good moment for McCain, one that demonstrated his willingness to stand up to the xenophobia that has hijacked the Republican Party and pollutes the immigration debate.
McCain showed that side again when, according to former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-PA, the Arizona senator scolded Republican senators over their plans to declare English the national language of the United States. According to Santorum, McCain warned that many Hispanics would interpret the gesture as racist, and he was right.
Then there was the time that McCain took on union members angry over his support for guest workers. McCain challenged the workers to do the jobs that they claimed immigrants were taking from them. He even offered to pay them $50 per hour to pick lettuce in Yuma if they stayed for the entire season. A few guys who apparently didn’t know much either about lettuce picking or Yuma threatened to take him up on the offer before coming to their senses.
Even the charge that McCain has flip-flopped on immigration reform doesn’t hold up. Critics say that, while McCain used to push for a comprehensive approach, now all he talks about is securing the border first. But McCain hasn’t stopped talking about the need for comprehensive reform. He made that case again just a few weeks ago when he announced an outreach initiative aimed at Hispanics. And besides, the emphasis on securing the border first isn’t new for the Arizona senator; the bill that McCain proposed with Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-MA, was amended in 2007 to include enforcement “triggers” — goals that had to be met before undocumented immigrants were put on the path to permanent residency.
Democrats have their hands full trying to keep Hispanics from flocking to McCain. They have every right to plead their case to those voters — but not at the expense of distorting the truth.
Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union Tribune, a nationally syndicated columnist, a frequent lecturer, and a regular contributor to CNN.com.