by José de la Isla
HOUSTON — The second shoe fell last week when the Christian-conservative “Values Voters” met in Washington. Out of 5,775 opinion votes cast, national frontrunner Rudy Giuliani finished next to last, with only two percent, in a field of six contenders.
The Christian right is far from reaching consensus. Meanwhile Latino evangelicals, a crucial swing bloc, have quietly left Republican hopefuls to fend for themselves.
The first shoe to drop came the day before, when Florida U.S. Senator Mel Martínez announced he was resigning as general chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Martínez took the party reins less than a year ago.
The two events are the latest evidence about how recalcitrant the party has become.
Martínez’s departure reflects how the GOP can’t pull itself together. He is expected to face a difficult Senate race in 2010. A July Quinnipiac University Poll showed him with a 38 percent disapproval rating and only 36 percent approval. The upside-down effect means the senator has repair work to do at home.
When the poll results were announced, Martínez was reported by Orlando Sentinel.com as saying, “I’m not going to worry too much about polls. My own election is too far away.”
Three months later, the 2010 race doesn’t seem so distant any more.
The reason is that Florida will by then have surpassed New York’s population, becoming the third most populous state after California and Texas. It is expected to gain three new congressional seats after the next census, one of which is attributed to the growth of the undocumented population.
In the United States, while only citizens are permitted to vote, all persons are still represented by elected officials. That’s why representatives with a large number of undocumented residents in their districts tend to be sensitive to those concerns. And it explains in large part why the most vociferous against immigration are those who represent districts with relatively few such persons.
Martínez’s problem in 2010 was set in motion in 2006 when he carried the Bush administration’s bill in the Senate. It included a path to legalization for 12 million people as well elements ensuring strong border security. As the only immigrant serving in the Senate, Martínez was a natural leader for the bill.
But the opposition hammered at the controversial legalization portion in it as the politically poison word “amnesty.” Martínez preferred to refer to it as an opportunity for undocumented immigrants “to come out of the shadows.”. The opposition diverted attention away from fines and long petition waits, choosing no solution at all. In the end, this and similar bills failed. “Amnesty” became a razor blade in the immigration debate candy.
Congress’s inaction on immigration is one of the counts in the public’s indictment charging government inaction. Consequently, local and state officials have introduced up to 1,400 pieces of legislation to restrict alleged “illegal immigrants.”
Numerous other reasons have circulated as to why Mel Martínez was giving up the GOP leadership position. Still, he was highly successful in raising $55.3 million for the RNC, a lot more than the $34.8 the Democrats were able to draw.
Of all the explanations, I think the “nursery rhyme” theory hits the target.
To avoid the fate of 2008, Martínez is getting out of the way. With only four months remaining until the first expected primary, the party has failed to find a center of gravity on political values that will give it an edge. It is increasingly unlikely Republicans can select a consensus builder out of their several bizarre, often contentious, factions.
That suggests after the presidential election, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men won’t be able to put Humpty Dumpty together again.
To win his own bid, Mel Martínez is simply getting out of the way of the GOP as it splatters after the fall.
[José de la Isla, author of “The Rise of Hispanic Political Power” (Archer Books, 2003), writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org]. ©2007