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Sotomayor, Hispanics and the Martinez Resignation
Perhaps no figure in the country has been more on the frontlines of the rising anti-Hispanic rhetoric in the Republican Party than Senator Mel Martinez. His political ascendency was engineered by Bush and Rove as part of their early - and successful - effort to increase Republican market share with Latinos. He was placed in the Bush Cabinet, and then backed by the Bush machine heavily in both the GOP primary and the Senate general election in Florida in 2004, as a way of helping create a national Republican Hispanic leader and to help Bush in a state they no doubt considered essential - given what happened in 2000 - in their 2004 re-election.
After the disasterous 2006 elections, the Bush White House made clear what worried them most by their defeat by appointing Senator Martinez the Chair of the RNC. The Hispanic vote which had gone from 21% in 1996 to 35% in 2000 to 40% in 2004 had - because of the anti Hispanic rhetoric of the immigration debate in 2005-2006 - dropped all the way down to 30% for the GOP in 2006. Martinez, who was the sharp edge of the Rovian Hispanic spear, was deployed to help reverse what was clearly a dangerous development for the GOP - the profound alientation of the fastest-growing, and perhaps most strategically placed, part of the American electorate.
When he was picked to be RNC Chair I predicted Senator Martinez would not last, that the national GOP so long so reactionary on matters of race, would simply not accept a bi-lingual Hispanic immigrant as their Chair. He lasted till the fall of 2007, overseeing among other things the sight of John McCain going from champion of immigration reform and Hispanics to opponent - all in order to appease the unappeasable anti-immigrant fringe of the Republican Party. To be clear after leading the GOP for less than a year Senator Martinez felt he could no longer do the job and walked away.
Earlier this year Senator Martinez, clearly now an outlier in his own Party, announced that he would not seek re-election for a 2nd term. And today, just one day after a Supreme Court vote where he witnessed first hand the reactionary attitudes toward race and Hispanics of his own Senate conference, Mel Martinez choose to not just not run for re-election but leave the Senate and his Republican colleagues altogether.
I've gotten a lot of questions this week about whether the way the Senate Republicans handled the Sotomayor vote would contribute to the deep alientation Hispanics feel towards the GOP. I offered some initial thoughts in a post which made it to the front page of the Huffington Post for almost a day. But perhaps they should ask the only minority in the Republican Senate conference, who, today, announced that he was doing what millions of Hispanics had already chosen to do these last few years - flee the national Republican Party.
Senator Martinez's resignation is yet another victory for those Republicans working to repudiate the sensible Bush/Rove strategy towards race and immigration, and yet another clear indicator of how unattractive the modern GOP's reactionary attitude towards race has become even to members of their own party.
Update - Markos has a great quick polling analysis of how far the GOP has fallen with Latinos this year.