It was Mitt Romney's macho moment. 

When he put his hand on Rick Perry's shoulder during their red-hot debate over who was tougher on undocumented immigrants, it banished all those thoughts about Mitt being soft and effete.

Here he was, the ultra-cool, Massachusetts moderate, multi-millionaire scion of a great family, getting down and dirty with the scrappy governor of Texas.   

Mitt even matched Ranger Rick glare-for-glare, flashing a disdainful smile devoid of humor and loaded instead with contempt. If I was Perry I would have smacked Romney's well-manicured hand off my shoulder.

"What do you know, cowboy?" Romney's gaze seemed to say.

His anti-immigrant coup d'grace was so in touch with the sentiments of  hard core Republican primary voters that it might win Romney his party's nomination.

Sadly for him, the moment will also make winning the general election virtually impossible.

Moreover, Perry aside, immigration politics will cost any GOP candidate the White House in 2012.

They are competing to out-crazy each other on who, as president, would be tougher on a population, which despite propaganda portraying them as dope-dealing criminals, is mostly pathetic economic refugees, strivers seeking a better life for themselves and their families en El Norte.

For all his charm, Herman Cain made his own mad play at being most extreme, vacillating between a crocodile-infested moat and an electrified fence.

Reliably extreme Michele Bachmann doubled down during the same Las Vegas debate, pledging to build not one but two multi-billion dollar fences along the entire 1,200-mile border with Mexico.

At least none of the candidates yet advocates shooting the migrants the way the Zanesville Ohio cops shot down those escaped wild animals this week. But given the current trajectory of GOP debate that is within the realm of possibility.

The bitter irony of the paranoid border hyperbole is that it comes as illegal migration has dropped to it's lowest level in a decade. And it comes as deportations have reached record highs.

No self-respecting Latino can vote for an anti-immigrant hate-monger.

I do not mean to suggest that all those who advocate for a closed border and stricter control are bad people. But for God's sake, to pretend that the nation is being invaded by a Latino scourge is to willfully ignore 175 years of cross-border history, and generations of population ebb and flow that has characterized our relationship with Mexico and Central America.

They are our neighbors and they are ourselves.

These are the people who have mowed our lawns (including Romney's), cared for our children, tilled our fields, picked our fruit, packed our meat and processed our poultry. Many have grown into citizen business owners, college graduates, tradesmen, and civic leaders.

And those millions who are here legally, plus those long-term citizen Latino and non-Latino Americans who feel immigrants are being demonized, will remember the inflammatory rhetoric come next November.

Mr. Obama is president because of the Latino vote – 67 percent versus 32 percent for Senator John McCain. The president took swing states Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Florida because of the Latino vote in 2008. 

Harry Reid is Senate Majority leader today because Nevada Latinos turned out en masse in 2010 to defeat Sharron Angle after that Tea Party favorite went nuclear with her anti-immigrant ad blitz.

In fact, it is only the Obama administration's attempts to appear tough on immigrants that gives the GOP hope that Latinos will stay home and not vote at all in November.

But given the recent Republican rants, the stage is set for a Latino-driven Obama resurrection.

Romney should have saved his macho. He should be swaggering in his advocating for jobs, not for bigger, stronger, non-functioning border fences.

Geraldo Rivera is Senior Columnist for Fox News Latino. 

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