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But instead of learning the Wilson lesson, Republicans have repeated the error across the Mountain West. In 2010 the Nevada GOP's Senate candidate, Sharron Angle, ran ads that reprised the black-and-white images of menacing Latinos crossing the border. ("The best friend an illegal alien ever had" was her tagline for Senate majority leader Harry Reid, who won overwhelming support from Latino voters.) Arpaio, the Republican sheriff in Phoenix, has been chastened by the Justice Department for unlawfully profiling, detaining and arresting Latino residents. And the 2012 Republican campaign trail has more often than not echoed Wilson's approach. Romney named Wilson as honorary chair of his campaign in California and toured South Carolina with the Kansas secretary of state who helped write the Arizona law that pushed Valenzuela and Team Awesome into action in the first place. "You look at what Pete Wilson did in California 15 years ago," says Messina, "and that is what this primary is doing with Latino voters."
Within months, the damage to Republicans among Latinos was measurable. In a January survey for the Spanish-language network Univision, pollster Matt Barreto found that 27% of Latinos felt the Republican Party was hostile toward Hispanics, while an additional 45% believed Republicans "don't care much" about them--a total of 72% who don't feel welcomed by the party. (And the numbers are getting worse: back in April 2011, just 20% sensed hostility from the Republicans.) The GOP's nativist drift led Newt Gingrich, who takes slightly more centrist positions on immigration, to call Romney "anti-immigrant." It has rallied a group of party elders, including former Florida governor Jeb Bush and strategist Karl Rove, to appeal for a more moderate tone. "We know that this is the fastest-growing segment and that we have to increase our share," warns Ed Gillespie, the former chairman of the Republican Party, who recently spoke to a gathering of conservative Latinos in Florida. "In 2020, if the Republican nominee for President gets the same percentage of the white, Hispanic, African American and Asian vote that John McCain got in 2008, a Democrat will be elected to the White House by 14 percentage points."
The man best positioned to improve his party's standing among Latinos keeps a handmade rosary in his desk, a gift from an undocumented immigrant. Marco Rubio, Florida's freshman Republican Senator, helped the Colombian woman in Miami gain legal residency after her visa expired because a lawyer she hired never filed her paperwork. A Cuban-American darling of the Tea Party and a potential vice-presidential nominee, Rubio talks about immigration less as a law-and-order matter than as a complex problem with a prevailing "human element." His party, he says, is too focused on the ills of illegal immigration. "What's the Republican legal-immigration plan?" he asks rhetorically. "And that's a problem, when all they hear from you is what you're against, not what you're for."