Conditioned Response Over Sotomayor

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When the bell rings, some people just can’t stop themselves from salivating, despite the warning that Joe Klein mentions below. And that is why Democratic pollsters and strategists are smiling this afternoon.

The nomination of Sonia Sotomayor has caused two general reactions among Republicans: Elected officials, who know all about the demographic Hispanic boomlet that imperils their party, have been extremely cautious. They are, in the words of Jay Newton-Small, walking softly and carrying a big magnifying glass. Ideological activists, on the other hand, have begun slobbering all over the airwaves with all sorts of identity-politics based attacks–every one of which are likely to harm their electoral hopes.

Rush Limbaugh promptly called Sotomayor “a reverse racist,” and “an affirmative action case extraordinaire,” who has “put down white men in favor of Latina women.”  The Committee for Justice issued a statement today claiming that the “only plausible explanation for Sotomayor’s selection is that the President was boxed in by demands from Hispanic and women’s groups that he pick one of their own.” The Judicial Confirmation Network offers this web-based ad, which is extraordinary for the narrowness of its attack: Sotomayor’s statements about the merits racial and gender diversity.

The complexities of affirmative action are certainly something to debate. (I would recommend Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez to anyone who sees the issue as a simple one.) And there is no prohibition on reopening the wars over multiculturalism and discrimination that dominated the 1960s, 70s and 80s. But there is no credible political strategist you can find who works nationally with either party who will argue that doing this, with this nominee, will help the Republican Party in coming elections.

The reason is numbers: 24 percent of voters in the last election were black, Hispanic or Asian, up from 15 percent in 1988. In the same period, the percentage of voters identifying as Hispanic doubled from 3.6 percent to 7.4 percent. What’s more, these voters are have been trending Democratic in big ways; whereas George W. Bush got about 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, John McCain only got 31 percent.  As Andres Ramirez of NDN points out, four of the eight states that flipped from Bush to Obama had large Hispanic populations. “The rapid growth of the Hispanic-American population for instance could soon cost Republicans the entire southwest if we don’t recover our previous share of the vote,” Steve Schmidt, the former top strategist for John McCain recently announced. And Obama’s advisors see the same thing. It is no accident that Obama has already made two visits to Arizona, a heavily Hispanic state that John McCain barely held onto in 2008, largely because it is his home state.

Needless to say, the crude format of the identity-politics arguments I mention above–take a look at the red-state view of pastoral “America” at the end of the JCN ad–do not exactly appeal to this emerging, ethnic powerbase. Elected Republicans know all of this. So do elected Democrats. And that’s why the Democrats are so giddy. They rang the bell. And the salivating began.