Saturday, July 20, 2024

Comentarios From Maria: To Reach Latinos, GOP Must Alter Its Message, Tone

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There is no doubt that the Latino electorate is becoming increasingly important in presidential elections and will become even more so in the future. Today, one in six Americans are of Latino descent. By 2050, that number will be one in three.

It is no wonder the Republican National Committee sounded the alarm following the drubbing the GOP suffered from Latinos in the 2012 elections—President Obama got 71 percent of the Latino vote to Mitt Romney’s 27 percent. The RNC asserted that the party had to change the way it spoke to Latinos and other important demographic groups if it was to sustain itself long-term.

The bigger issue is that many in the party have not heeded that warning. And the bigger question is whether the erosion of Latino support for Republicans is reversible, or is the GOP doomed to find a path to the Casa Blanca that does not pass through Hispanic communities?

During the 2004 presidential election cycle, the Hispanic vote was truly up for grabs. Not that Republicans could get the majority support—that has yet to happen—but in the sense that President Bush, Karl Rove, and RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman knew and understood the importance of the Latino vote and were smart about communicating the Republican message of economic opportunity in a welcoming, personal, and authentic manner.

Importantly, George W. Bush was a proponent of immigration reform and used that to open the door to talk with Latinos about other Republican policies. It worked. Bush got just enough of the Latino vote needed to beat John Kerry. Bush’s pollster had stated that the president needed to get at least 40 percent of the Latino vote to win. He got exactly that.

But since then, the Republican Party’s attitudes towards Latinos have shifted greatly. It began with House passage of the draconian immigration bill in late 2005 that would have made being in the country without papers a criminal offense instead of a civil one. This sparked outrage among Hispanics and gave rise to massive immigration marches in the spring of 2006, and started the mantra of “Today we march, tomorrow we vote” from Latinos nationwide. That fall, Democrats took back the House with the help of Latino voters, and two years later Latinos helped give Barack Obama his first presidential win.

Instead of correcting the party’s course with Latinos and learning how to better talk about immigration, the GOP tacked to the right with the rise of the Tea Party in 2010 and the GOP’s takeover of the House. These new members of Congress were even less willing to have a civil conversation about immigration reform and what to do with the 11 million undocumented workers in the country. The rhetoric turned personal and hateful. There was talk of undocumented immigrants as feral hogs, as vermin and rats, and famously, Mitt Romney’s solution to the immigration problem during the 2012 presidential race was for all “illegals to self-deport.”

Enraged, Latinos threw their support to Obama a second time, giving him the historic 71 percent of the vote. So can the GOP fix this?

That may have been possible a few years ago if party leaders had had the courage to disavow the ugly rhetoric that spewed from many Republicans—and still does. But when you have 750,000 Latinos turning 18 every year, the GOP is doing a damn good job of cementing their dreary future with them, as the notion of a GOP that does not want them solidifies for generations to come.

Today, it also goes much deeper than rhetoric. It goes to policy as well. The deep partisan divide that currently engulfs our nation is in large part based on a fundamental difference of opinion on the role of government in the lives of America’s citizens. The Tea Party and the loudest voices on the Republican side rail against any expansion of services to needy communities across the country. They howl at the moon about the evils of “big government.”  They want to cut the budgets of the very programs millions of Americans—many of them of people of color—depend on.

In poll after poll, majorities of Latinos embrace the view that government has a positive role to play in creating more opportunities for citizens who were not born to privilege. This translates into support for spending on education, which Latinos believe will give their children a better chance in life, as well as health care—majorities of Latinos support Obamacare—job creation, environmental protection, and most especially, immigration. Latino voters will support a candidate and a political party that also believes government can be a partner that helps create opportunities where needed.

At a time when one-fourth of all kindergarten age children in the country are Latino, and when the majority of births are children of color, the Republican Party had better find a way to embrace policies that do not demonize the government that is currently seen as a partner of the communities they need to reach. There is no current pathway to the White House that does not include garnering bigger percentages of Latino voters. Latino voters are young and growing while the Anglo electorate is aging and shrinking. It is simple math.

Speaking in a civilized tone wouldn’t hurt either. The GOP’s future as a national party depends on it. Though the deeper they dig their grave with Latinos the harder it will be to achieve electoral success, history shows it can certainly be done. Just ask W.

This piece originally appeared in Real Clear Politics