Wednesday night's CNN/YouTube Republican debate spent the first 23 minutes on immigration.
That is primarily a decision of CNN in choosing several immigration questions first, but the candidates did not need much prompting, and the conservative audience likely had no problem with it.
But the focus on immigration is extremely damaging to the field and the party in two key ways.
One, the relentless immigrant-bashing will continue to hurt the GOP, as it did in 2006.
The last congressional election saw an 11-point swing in the Latino vote towards the Democrats from the 2004 election, which was not offset by any gains among white voters. (Most voters support pathways to citizenship.)
In short, bashing immigrants got them nowhere.
Yet they persist, because their conservative base demands it.
Two, the intense focus on the issue is enticing the candidates to virulently attack each other, which is exposing the lot of them as hypocrites, panderers and flip-floppers.
As I noted in the last LiberalOasis Radio Show, every single GOP candidate with a remotely plausible shot at winning the nomination (Giuliani, Huckabee, McCain, Romney and Thompson) have pro-immigrant policies and positions in their past records -- supporting government services to the undocumented and/or supporting pathways for the undocumented to become citizens.
And with the exception of McCain, they are all trying to act as if their top priority is to rid America of the 12 million who have committed misdemeanors in coming here to work and feed their families.
But since each candidate feels need to prove they hate immigrants the most, they are calling out the flip-flops of each other. Everybody loses.
They continue to alienate Latinos. They lose public trust by showing their lack of principle.
And whichever candidate is the last one standing doesn't get a boost for shining bright in a hard-fought race, just emerges bloodied and bruised.
No one can "win" this argument because, from a conservative perspective, none of them has a strong record to tout.
Yet they'll keep digging their hole, caught up in the vitriol that drives the conservative base and separates them from the majority of the country.