Mona Charen

Obviously, this doesn't mean that the problem is solved. Mexicans are not the only illegal immigrants (though they do account for 6 out of 10), and some of the causes for the decline -- the poor economy in the U.S., increased drug trafficking along the border, improved opportunities in Mexico -- may change. But it does suggest that the urgency with which Republican hopefuls treat the matter is misplaced. The spending catastrophe coming from the Obama administration is an emergency. The flow of illegal immigrants is not.

With the exception of one comment by Mitt Romney in Nevada to the effect that all of the candidates are great supporters of legal immigration, the entire flavor of these Republican debates could plausibly be interpreted by Hispanic voters as hostile. And that's even before President Obama begins to demagogue it -- as he surely will.

Republicans do not have to win a majority of the Hispanic vote to defeat Barack Obama. But if they can deny him the huge majority (67 percent) he achieved in 2008, it would be significant in light of the president's abysmal standing with white voters (33 percent).

The way has already been prepared. From a high of 82 percent support in 2009 (Gallup), Hispanic support for Obama has dropped 34 points to 48 percent last month. The president has even lost 8 percent among African Americans!

Republicans should be appealing for Hispanic support. Emphasize the terrible economy. By all means talk about jobs. Focus on the consequences of fiscal Armageddon. But Republicans should never discuss illegal immigration without first praising the contributions that legal Hispanic and other immigrants have made to American society, which has the advantage of being true. They should showcase high-ranking Republican office holders, entertainers and businessmen of Hispanic ancestry. They should learn a few words of Spanish. Then, and only then, should they express their opposition to illegal immigration. How you say it matters as much as what you say.

Republicans are always going to be demonized by the press and the Democrats as haters and bigots. They should be smart enough to expect that and outmaneuver it. So far, this year, they're walking right into a trap.

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
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