If there was any doubt about the fearsome power of an anti-immigration message in American politics this election cycle, Republican Bob Latta drove a stake through it on Tuesday.
It’s hard to imagine a more miserable political climate for Republicans — hurting nationally because of the unpopularity of President Bush and the Iraq war, and even more in Ohio because of the economy and local factors that have knocked the GOP off its game over the past two years.
But Latta, running in a special election for a suburban Toledo-based House district, crafted a message — echoed by party officials — that bashed illegal immigrants who live here, drive here or get government-funded health care.
He won by 14 points. Democrats and Republicans alike credit the immigration message for the big margin.
I should be gratified, and I am, but the natural pessimist in me fears that the idiot politicians will overdo it with “Listen, Jose, you’re not coming in this time!” hyperbole. The potential problem is not really the Hispanic vote, which is too small and diverse to be of much consequence in any case, but rather other Americans, who want the laws enforced and immigration reduced, but don’t want to feel bad about themselves for wanting that. That’s why a strategy of attrition of the illegal population and a “fewer immigrants but a warmer welcome” approach to legal immigration is not just the best policy but also the best politics.