Let's give Bill O'Reilly some credit: He's smart enough to recognize that the GOP's desire to try to tear down Sonia Sotomayor is a classic case of cutting one's nose off to spite what's left of your face.
Here's a political party, after all, that's caught in a death spiral of declining membership and vanishing power. One of the key reasons for that has been the sharp decline in Hispanic participation in the GOP -- a significant loss among the nation's fastest-growing ethnic component.
O'Reilly can see this, and discussed it in last night's Talking Points Memo segment. But he also thinks it's just a PR problem:
So Hispanic voters actually put Barack Obama in the White House, and the GOP needs some of them back, thus Republicans face a quandary.
This morning on ABC, conservative Ann Coulter pretty much defined the problem:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANN COULTER, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Saying that someone would decide a case differently, better in fact, because she is a Latina rather than a white male, I mean, that statement is by definition racist. I'm not saying she's a racist, but the statement sure is.
DIANE SAWYER, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA" CO-HOST: Were you moved by the Hispanic breakthrough, Ann?
COULTER: Why aren't Democrats — why aren't they choking up over Clarence Thomas or Miguel Estrada? I mean, you know, come on, why are we all supposed to weep only when it's a liberal Hispanic or a liberal black?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Yes, indeed, Coulter does define the problem. So do Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich. Their own bigotry has been on display so often, and so nakedly, that we already know where they're coming from. Coulter's performance -- including a flat refusal to offer even the smallest note of grace -- spoke for itself.
And how does it look to have the Right's leading bigots shouting "Racist!" at Sotomayor? Besides hilarious?
But O'Reilly didn't see it that way:
Ms. Coulter's point is true. Liberals gleefully attacked Clarence Thomas and Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, but the media is now lurking, looking to pound any conservative who goes after Ms. Sotomayor. So the Republicans have a tough situation on their hands.
The judge is vulnerable, especially on affirmative action, and her racial tone on who has a better outlook on the law, minorities or whites. But to the Hispanic-American community, that might not matter much, especially considering the judge's background.
So according to O'Reilly, Hispanics aren't concerned about her alleged racism, because she's such a swell "life story." When actually, they're not concerned about it because she's not racist.
A little later, in discussing it with Dick Morris, O'Reilly described it again:
Morris: And Latinos and Latinas are very open to the Republican Party. A third of them are evangelical Protestants -- they came as Catholics, and they converted while in the United States to Pentecostal or other evangelical religions or charismatic Catholics.
O'Reilly: Well, they're traditional people and they don't like some of the crazy left stuff that comes out of the Democratic Party at times.
Morris: They're against gay marriage, they're pro-life. But the Republican Party, they feel, drives them away. And they --
O'Reilly: Sure. Because that's the way it's marketed, and -- look, Ann Coulter was correct in her assessment, and we're going to get into that with Bernie Goldberg in a moment that -- compelling story, Judge Alberto Gonzales! Doesn't get any more compelling! But did you hear that? Nooooo. But all the media will do with Ann Coulter and people like her is concentrate on the "racist racist racist" thing. So the Hispanic voter at home who doesn't follow closely says, "Oh, they're at it again, these conservatives don't like us."
Well, I don't think Alberto Gonzales is the example O'Reilly wants to bring up here (Coulter, in fact, specifically and angrily avoided it in her clip, after James Carville brought it up) because his story wasn't really so great after all: When hauled before Congress for his obvious perjury, even Newt Gingrich refused to defend him.
But did you get the upshot of this? Republicans (see, e.g., Bill O'Reilly and Lou Dobbs) don't actually say wretchedly bigoted things about Hispanics in reality. It's just that the media reports it that way.
I wonder if it's not just the bigotry that turns off Hispanic voters. It might also be the constant insulting of their intelligence.