Is the GOP Ready to Give Up on Latino Voters?

PHOTO: People walk past a directional sign to a polling place inside El Mercado de Los Angeles, a Mexico-style marketplace in the heavily Latino East L.A. area, during the U.S. presidential election on November 6, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.

Has the moment for immigration reform passed?

There's a school of thought growing within the GOP that argues the party doesn't need to win over Latino voters as badly as it needs to expand its popularity among white voters. That's according to MSNBC.com's Benjy Sarlin, who wrote on Tuesday that conservative party leaders may jettison the Hispanic-outreach gambit in favor of more base politics:

The new argument sees immigration reform at best as a divisive distraction from the GOP's real problem of countering "white flight" from the polls. At worst, they view it as an electoral apocalypse, a seventh seal behind which lies an unbroken line of future Democratic presidents.

If the political rationale for co-operating with Democrats to pass an immigration overhaul is gone, Sarlin's theory goes, the chances dwindle that it becomes law. But has the GOP really experienced such severe whiplash on Latino outreach in a matter of months? Not quite.

There have always been conservative skeptics of immigration reform and Hispanic outreach. And as they've become louder, high-profile Republican lawmakers and Fox News pundits have wavered in their enthusiasm about immigration reform; Sarlin cites such conservative luminaries as Fox's Brit Hume and Sean Hannity as leading voices for retrenchment on the GOP's bid to court Latinos.

But they're for-pay opinionators, not influential politicians or money-men. And those groups' attitudes suggest that reports of the demise of the right's pro-reform coalition are exaggerated.

Major Republican donors remain adamant in their desire to see Congress pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. They see the demographic reality that the national electorate is becoming less white, and they're firm in the belief that the GOP needs to connect with a more diverse universe of voters.

Groups funded by such donors are preparing a concerted effort to persuade influential House Republicans to get on board with immigration reform. And they're also working to ensure Republicans who already support it get adequate political cover. Groups like the American Action Network, backed by GOP impresario Fred Malek, and Americans for a Conservative Direction are spending serious cash on TV ads defending Marco Rubio for his work on the Senate immigration bill.

Republican leaders in Congress have also not been as adamant about opposing immigration reform as, say, health care reform. And they may even be content to let a bill pass. Every GOP leader in the Senate voted against the bill, it's true -- but as several outlets have noted, they didn't use procedural measures like the filibuster to torpedo a bill.

House Speaker John Boehner's insistence that the House pass a bill with majority GOP support surely does not bode well for reform. But he hasn't revealed his personal views on a policy solution, saying that would be "the worst thing in the world that can happen" for the chances of reaching a compromise proposal that can pass the House.

That's led some key Democrats to conclude that deep down, Boehner wants to see comprehensive immigration reform become law, even though many in his party remain dead set against offering undocumented immigrants a chance to earn U.S. citizenship.

"Boehner is not the kind of – how would I say it – ideological guy. Right?" Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (Ill.), an influential Democratic voice on immigration, said Tuesday. "He wants to try to reach consensus. I believe that about him."

You could go on debating about the chances of immigration reform becoming law. But what's not debatable is the fact that the electorate is becoming more diverse each and every year. If the GOP decides to lead the charge in killing immigration reform in 2013, it's likely to feel the consequences in in 2014, and for a long time after.

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