Sotomayor and the Death of the Southern Strategy
July 28, 2009
The hearings on Judge Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court presented a challenge for Republicans—mount a futile but nuanced opposition to a historic nomination to secure their base while minimizing damage among swing voters.
Opposition to Judge Sotomayor, who was first appointed by President George H.W. Bush, was futile since her record clearly established her as a moderate and anything but a judicial activist. Senate Republicans, however, were spurred by polls showing that they would pay a much steeper price among their base for supporting the nomination than they would pay among swing voters by opposing her.
Polls also indicated that nearly half of Hispanics would react negatively if the Republicans overwhelmingly opposed Sotomayor and, in fact, GOP favorability has dropped nine points since April to a mere 8 percent. By comparison, President Bush received 45 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004.
Sotomayor is also supported by a majority of women and independents—constituencies that will be vital to any GOP revival, but which currently overwhelmingly disapprove of the party.
With Jeff Sessions at the helm, there was little concern for the Party’s standing with Hispanics or women as Republicans only saw a Latina “who had some ‘splaining to do” and not an accomplished judge worthy of respect. Sessions even sought to portray a Puerto Rican legal aid organization Sotomayor assisted as “radical,” just as he once called the NAACP “communist.”
Playing the race card may score points among the GOP’s shrinking base, but it is a recipe for extinction, since by the end of the next decade approximately two-thirds of electoral votes will be from states that are “majority minority.” The Nixon-Reagan-Bush “Southern Strategy” is a relic of the last century and the GOP is at risk of becoming the same.