Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was the only Republican on the Judiciary Committee to vote in favor of confirming Sonia Sotomayor as the next justice of the United States Supreme Court. Graham said that while he would not have nominated Sotomayor, he believes that presidents are entitled to their choices barring an extreme choice.
It is difficult to see why more Republicans did not follow Graham. First, it shows him to be principled at a time when most voters do not associate that particular adjective with contemporary politicians. (N.B. There has never been a time, at least not in America, where the voters have viewed their political leaders as principled.) Second, at a moment when Latinos, the fasting growing part of the electorate, are excited about breaking another glass ceiling, most Republican senators decided to throw cold water on the event with the "nay" votes.
The negative votes were especially surprising in two instances. Both Senators Jon Kyl and John Cornyn come from states with large Hispanic populations. Kyl is up for re-election in 2012 when President Obama will be at the head of the ticket. Last year, all of Arizona’s neighbors – New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado – flipped from Red to Blue, largely on the strength of the Hispanic vote. Arizona only stayed in the GOP column because of the GOP nominee was hometown Senator John McCain. Even so, McCain only carried his home state by 53% to 45%. Last night in Arizona, a lot of politicians began recalibrating their careers based on the fact that Kyl has, in an instant, made himself more vulnerable than he was already. Cornyn’s vote signifies his intention to remain viable as a GOP nominee in 2012.
It was comic watching David Frum, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, try to explain how the GOP gets back into power on CNN last night. He kept insisting that the key was winning back California. With its 55 electoral votes, California is certainly a big prize and Frum is correct in saying that the Democrats in Sacramento have made a hash of things, although the state’s bizarre constitutional provisions are also largely to blame. But, except when they have run an action-hero for Governor, the GOP has not won California statewide since they backed Proposition 187, a mean-spirited attack on Latino immigrants and their children. That Proposition cost the GOP the Latino vote for a generation or two. President Obama won the state with 61 percent of the vote. Even the hapless John Kerry took California with 54%.
Frum should stick to syntax (which was a full-time job when writing for Bush) and leave the political analysis to others. Fantasies of winning California while voting against the first Latina nominated to the high court will not help. Indeed, they should keep an eye out for Texas, where the growing Latino population may soon put that state into play for the Democrats.
The GOP had an alternative path on the Sotomayor nomination, one that was charted and taken by Sen. Graham. The fact that he had no followers shows that the GOP is in lemming-mode, following the prejudices of their base into political self-destruction. Great parties can bounce back pretty quickly, but it looks like the Republicans intend to fall very far before they start climbing back into the mainstream of American political attitudes.