I've been wondering about this too. From Jonathan Singer at MYDD:
This report from NPR's Nina Totenberg contains a fairly remarkable piece of news: So determined to block Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina ever nominated to the Supreme Court, McConnell took the unprecedented step of getting the NRA to do his dirty work.
One top aide to GOP leader McConnell confirmed that McConnell, at a meeting of conservative groups, asked the NRA about scoring the Sotomayor vote as a key vote hostile to gun rights. The aide conceded that in asking the question, McConnell was promoting an unusual step that the NRA then took.
You have to wonder how it is going to play in the Hispanic community around the country that the Republicans were so diametrically opposed to the nomination of Sotomayor, the Supreme Court nominee with the longest resume in nearly a century, that they called upon the NRA to twist Senators' arms -- even though they knew they didn't have the votes to stop her nomination.
This is what I find inexplicable about Republican strategy. They knew before she was nominated that the person Obama named was 99% likely to be confirmed. They knew she was replacing a liberal on the court, so no harm no foul in terms of the balance on the court. And they know they have a problem with Hispanics, the fastest growing demographic in the country. Allowing a large margin to vote for Sotomayor would be an easy way to ease some of those tensions, buy some good will and provide some cover the next time the Democrats try to block a nominee, without having to actually do anything. It's just good politics.
And yet they've gone out of their way to publicly sully the woman's reputation and now are pulling every possible string to keep the vote as tight as possible, thereby reinforcing the notion that they hate Hispanics so much that they will do everything in their power, even when they are sure to lose, to keep one from the Supreme Court.
I've heard people make the case that this is payback for Thomas, which is seen as the destruction of a good man's reputation for no good reason. But aside from the merits of the case, (which was about sexual harrasment being ignored by a bunch of powerful, pompous men, not race) the Democrats weren't in the process of losing the black vote in vast numbers when it happened and because the Dems had been the party of civil rights by that time for more than 30 years. If anything, they were going against type.
This is so politically obtuse that makes me wonder what in the hell these people are really worried about. It occurs to me that they are seeing something much more devastating in their numbers than just losing the Hispanic vote of the future. It seems they must be afraid of losing the white working class. Assuming they are behaving rationally (which is assuming a lot) the only logical reason they could have for ginning up all this racial animosity is if they feel the need to secure their base with the old tried and true racial resentment. If they were secure there, they could afford to be magnanimous toward Sotomayor in a situation that makes no substantial change in policy.
Of course, it could also just be that they are a bunch of sexist, racist bastards themselves and just can't stand the idea of a woman of Puerto Rican extraction being in power. With these people it's usually a good idea to apply Occam's Razor and call it a day.