Marc Cooper writes in an op-ed in today’s Los Angeles Times that there was a whole lot less to the Minutemen Project than the media tried to portray. Organizers claimed that 1,000 patriotic citizens – many of them armed – were going to watch for illegal immigrants along Arizona’s border with Mexico for the entire month of April.
All Mexicans traveling north without proper documents got wind of the publicity and chose another route into the United States. The Minutemen noted the lack of illegal traffic along the Arizona border and declared victory. The media – and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger – fell for the ruse, and for the governor this could prove to be politcally fatal mistake. Coooper writes:
On its opening day, I could count no more than 135 participants, even at the two kickoff public rallies along the Arizona border. At one near the border town of Douglas, two dozen reporters and a handful of TV cameras swarmed over no more than 10 Minutemen — most of them sitting in lawn chairs or in pickup truck beds.
One Minuteman organizer admitted, “This thing was a dog-and-pony show designed to bring in the media and get the message out, and it worked.”
Illegal immigration is the “third rail” of politics for Republicans in California, but maybe Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t get the memo. Perhaps he was busy filming a Sci-Fi movie in 1994 and didn’t notice when his friend and advisor Pete Wilson ran for governor a second time using Proposition 187, the anti-immigrant initiative as a wedge issue. For Wilson, the campaign worked in the short term. He was reelected with comfortable margins. But for California Republicans, the campaign was a disaster. It energized California Latinos and drove millions of them into the Democratic Party. Many of these Latinos – especially younger males – switched parties to vote for the Terminator.
As disengaged as young male voters tend to be, you can bet they heard about this:
[On Thursday], Schwarzenegger called a conservative talk radio show in Los Angeles to blast a local Spanish-language television station for a billboard that “promotes illegal aliens to come in here, and that’s the last thing we need.” He went on to praise the controversial Minuteman Project, saying the group has done “a terrific job,” by putting hundreds of armed civilians in Arizona to stop illegal immigrants from crossing the Mexican border.
This is not a case of the Governor shoring up his base. Schwarzenegger is a liberal Republican who has no base among the far Right in his party. They’ll hold their noses and vote for him, or they’ll stay home. The votes he’ll need to push him over margins will come from Latinos who may identify with immigrants, and thus resent the anglos in the pick up trucks watching with binoculars and guns.