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The right's desperate search for more white voters

Fox News' Brit Hume has heard all the arguments about the Republican Party needing a more diverse voting base, but he's not buying it. This on-air commentary

Fox News' Brit Hume has heard all the arguments about the Republican Party needing a more diverse voting base, but he's not buying it. This on-air commentary aired the other day:

Rejecting the argument that the Hispanic vote is necessary to the party's electoral fortunes, Hume called it "baloney," adding, "If you look at the statistics, you find there was one significant bloc of voters who turned out in smaller numbers this time in a major way -- way below expectations, below even their '08 turnout -- and that was white voters." He added that the Hispanic vote "is not nearly as important, still, as the white vote."

And why is that it interesting? In part because Hume said the exact opposite soon after the 2012 elections. As msnbc's Benjy Sarlin explained this week, on election night, Hume called the "demographic" threat posed by Latino voters "absolutely real" and suggested Mitt Romney's "hardline position on immigration" may be to blame for election losses.

Hume apparently now thinks Hume's argument is "baloney."

But the larger point is that the Fox News anchor isn't the only one making this shift. Shortly after the election, Fox's Sean Hannity was on board with reform to improve the GOP's fortunes, and he's since moved to the right. More to the point, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in January he wants a "comprehensive" immigration bill and then said last month, "There's this narrative being written in the press and by Democrats and, quite frankly by some Republicans, that I am pushing a comprehensive immigration bill, and that's just not true."

And what's driving these moves is the growing sentiment in conservative circles that if the Republican Party can only improve its performance among white people -- getting 70% of the vote instead of 60% -- then its demographic death spiral isn't too big a deal after all. It's a thesis Real Clear Politics' Sean Trende has touted for months, which has grown considerably in recent months as Republican opposition to immigration reform has grown.

Now, Byron York, Rush Limbaugh, Michele Bachmann, and Phyllis Schlafly are all making roughly the same argument: Latinos have become part of the Democratic coalition, so the smart move for the GOP is to stop going after them and start boosting white support (beyond where it already is).

"Their idea seems to be gaining currency," Frank Sharry, executive director of immigration advocacy group America's Voice, told msnbc. "Right after the election most of the conservative commentariat said they had to do something to get right with Latino voters. Now there seems to be this bizarre conversation that could only happen in the conservative bubble about how Romney didn't win because he didn't mobilize enough white voters."

Sarlin and Mark Murray have pieces that dig deep into the data, and they're well worth your time, but I'd just add one related thought: it's not at all clear how Republicans can boost their performance among white voters so significantly without creating a significant and polarizing backlash that puts them in an even worse electoral position than they're in now.

That said, the argument Hume presented appears to be gaining traction. As Paul Waldman noted, the GOP "might just stick with this 'party of white people' thing" and see what happens.