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Republican Presidential Latino Strategy Raises Loose Nuts and Bolts Question. Again.

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Today The New York Times tells me that, while Republicans in the Congress continue to paint the kids at the border as an invading horde of knife-wielding lepers, Republicans with presidential aspirations are maneuvering to win over Latino voters.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey will journey to Mexico next month to meet with the country's new president, court its corporate titans and mingle with its cultural leaders.

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is about to set off for Guatemala, where he will put his ophthalmology training to use by treating local patients with eye disorders.

And Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin is pleading with the government of Mexico to open a first-ever consulate in his state.

But the Times also reports that, "There are no plans for Mr. Christie to visit the United States' southern border with Mexico, where Central American children are now pouring into Texas."

Earlier this week I visited with Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins for a story I'm working on about the refugee children at the border. He described going there himself and finding siblings locked up in drunk tanks, separated by age and sex. He remembered in particular one very young child reaching through bars sobbing for an older sister who was across the way in another pod.

Jenkins, a Democrat, has been aggressively generous in his own proposals for dealing with the influx, volunteering to take on thousands of refugee children here in Dallas County until a sudden drop in border crossings made his offer unnecessary.

It seems to me we went through an only slightly dumber version of this same syndrome in the last presidential election, when a dozen or so reality-TV characters were running for the Republican nomination. They all wanted the cops to pull over and deport motorists who looked Latino, but then they also reached out to Latinos on the basis of family values and free enterprise.

I distinctly remember a conversation at a coffee shop in East Dallas where a Latino dude said to me, "I don't want to discuss family values with you if you're going to arrest my gramma."

And economic theories about free markets and regulation and all that stuff? That comes way after the chat about deporting people's grandmothers. C'mon. Isn't this pretty simple stuff?

If your version of family values includes pulling people over on the highway because they look like me ethnically, then basically I hate your guts. What is that you say? You and I might agree on basic market theory? Well that is kind of interesting, isn't it? But I still hate your guts, because you express a fundamental lack of decent human respect for me and everybody who looks like me, and basic human respect comes first, way first, way ahead of theories.

All this business about the border is so transparently about ethnicity and putting the shoe on the other foot. Get me some news footage of a bunch of white French or German kids in a drunk tank screaming through the bars for their siblings, and all these same Republicans would be rushing down there with Lady Bountiful baskets to rescue them.

OK fine, tell me I'm wrong, tell me I'm being unfair, it's all about law and order and the fact that we can't let them in because a lot of those kids might have cleft palates. Go ahead. And then, please, by all means, court the Latino vote by visiting with corporate titans and cultural leaders in Mexico City while you refuse to go look at the kids in the drunk tanks on the border. See how that works for you.

The Republican presidential candidates are in the same position this time they were in last time around. They want to hang on to their base among the haters while reaching out for votes among the hated. You know why that doesn't work? It's stupid. It's so stupid it makes you wonder if they've got loose nuts and bolts in their heads.

Their dilemma was captured in a popular song lyric a half century or so ago:

"Did you ever have to make up your mind? You pick up on one and leave the other behind. It's not often easy and not often kind. Did you ever have to make up your mind?"

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