It was just announced that the 2012 Republican National Convention will be held in Tampa, Florida, rather than Salt Lake City, Utah or Phoenix, Arizona, the other two cities that were in the running. Now, it's pretty easy to see why Utah would be contentious, seeing as how Mitt Romney may be the party's nominee. Holding the GOP convention in the heart of Mormonism would seem to be some sort of tacit party endorsement of Romney, in other words. Or perhaps it's just that the conventioneers want to have more fun (and more bars) available to them while they go about the sober (ahem) business of nominating their presidential candidate. But Phoenix is another story entirely. Because I can't help but think that the Republican Party just imposed their own de facto boycott of Arizona, due to the state's recent legislative anti-immigrant fervor.
Some Republicans, at the national level, apparently see the long-term damage to their party from satisfying the anti-immigration faction within their ranks. Policies aimed directly at Latino immigrants may gain the GOP a short-term boost, but while they're patting themselves on the back for this, Latino voters may move out of the party's reach for a generation to come. And since Latinos are both the fastest-growing portion of America, and also now the biggest minority group in the country, Republicans' short-sighted immigrant scapegoating could lead Latinos to become as solid a voting bloc for Democrats as African-Americans currently are.
To follow up on Arizona's recent law regarding citizenship papers and the police, they have just enacted a virtual ban on "ethnic studies" being taught in their schools. While the legal language doesn't come right out and say it, this law is aimed at Latino studies programs being taught in certain cities' school districts (such as Tucson's). But the message to Latinos is crystal clear: Republicans are going to scapegoat you for years to come. Which doesn't exactly bode well for the Republicans who advocate a slightly bigger "tent" for their party, rather than seeking out new ways to shrink their party's voting base.
Latinos, demographically, could just as easily have been courted by the Republicans. They are overwhelmingly Catholic, and have strong "pro-family" (as Republicans phrase it) views on hot-button social issues such as abortion and gay rights. They could have been welcomed by the Republicans with open arms, and would likely have reinvigorated the party as a result. Instead, they are being actively pushed away.
While immigration is a hot-button issue as well, it is not as nationwide an issue as the other Republican favorites. The heat on immigration is warmest where immigration is seen as a problem, but outside such areas, it's much more of a back-burner issue for most rank and file Republicans. National party leaders are aware of this, as they are also aware that immigrant-baiting (or even immigrant-bashing) doesn't always translate into electoral victories -- many Republican candidates in the past few years thought they'd ride the issue all the way to Washington, but when the voters had their say, they wound up losing to a more moderate candidate.
The Republican Party, by choosing Tampa over Phoenix, shows that there are still some people at the national level who understand the possible downside of holding their convention in Arizona in two years. Florida, after all, is somewhat of an aberration in the world of Latino politics, because the mostly-Cuban Latino population in the state reliably votes Republican. Cubans, after all, are given "instant amnesty" for arriving here illegally (because we hate Castro so very, very much), as long as they can get their feet on U.S. soil. No Cuban immigrant is forced to wait in line or be sent home for not having the proper paperwork. Ask Marco Rubio, who is running for the Senate as a Republican -- his parents immigrated from Cuba. Meaning the visuals from the state during the convention will be lots of Latino support for the Republicans, instead of angry Latinos protesting.
In other words, the Republicans' decision to subtly boycott Arizona makes lot of sense, politically. Saner heads in the party obviously prevailed in their choice of cities. But, subtle though it may be, it puts Republicans on the side of many others who are urging a boycott of the entire state -- which may soon include Major League Baseball yanking next year's All-Star game from the state in protest. Of course, Republicans likely won't admit that they are indeed jumping on the "Boycott Arizona!" bandwagon, they'll likely come up with some plausible reason why Tampa was a better fit for them in 2012 than Phoenix. My money's on "Tampa has better parking facilities," or something equally inane and unbelievable.
But, subtle or not, the Republican Party is obviously sending a message by choosing Florida over Arizona. Whether they admit it publicly or not, the national Republican Party is now on the side of the boycotters. Which is a smart move for them politically, in both the long term and the short. Not only do they get much friendlier media images from their convention, but Republicans may also -- to a very limited extent -- repair some of the damage their party image has right now with the fastest-growing segment of the American voting population.
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post
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-- Chris Weigant