How the GOP Can Win the Latino Vote – A Hispanic Perspective

Opinion   |   Raimundo Rojas   |   Nov 16, 2012   |   12:13PM   |   Washington, DC

I live in a community that isn’t just predominantly Hispanic – it is almost exclusively Hispanic. During election cycles I make sure that what little television I watch or radio I listen to is in Spanish, and unless I’m speaking with a monolingual English-speaking coworker or friend on the phone, I never hear the English language spoken – and yes, I live in the United States.  At the bodega, the gas station, the dry-cleaners, the bakery or just walking down the street – I am immersed in not only the language but the culture as well.  Unlike many others who’ve written, blog-posted or spoken about this election and how it relates to Hispanics – I actually lived it.

And it does seem that since the election almost anyone with a blog, a television show, a radio program or a twitter account has offered in-depth analysis of the GOP’s failed attempt at trying to win over Latino voters in 2012.   Even Eva Longoria (whose most notable tie to the Hispanic community is having played a Latina on TV) added her name to an ill-advised op-ed piece for a Texas newspaper.

Some liberals, in their typically condescending manner, exclaimed  that in future elections Texas would be “purple.”  (I can only assume they revert to the use of the color wheel as they think we Latinos would have difficulty comprehending “swing-state.”) Either way, I understand what the Democrats are saying and as much as it pains me to agree – they make a very valid point.

Here’s why.

Eighteen months before the election an interesting thing happened over at the Nielsen Company.  In the Spring of 2011 and for the first time since the 1920s when Arthur Nielsen created a system by which radio and television stations could gauge audience size and composition, a Spanish-language television show bested all other broadcast networks.

Aired during the course of three months, Telemundo’s La Reina del Sur (Queen of the South) told the story of a young Mexican woman who becomes the most powerful drug trafficker in southern Spain. During its 63-episode run the show frequently dominated its time slot, even over English language programming on other major U.S. networks.  The show’s finale, broadcast on May 30th, slaughtered ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX in the much coveted adults 18 – 49 demographic and all men.

Couple that with the US Census Bureau factoid that in the United States a Latino turns 18 years old every 30 seconds, and what Nielsen recorded isn’t so much interesting as it is monumental. Advertisers, publishers, movie studios, record companies – all marketing in general increased an already frenetic pace to better reach Latinos in the US.  Political parties seem to have taken notice as well, but the results of November 6th election may indicate that one of them paid better attention than the other.

During his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, New Mexico Governor and DNC Chair, Bill Richardson warned Democrats that if George W. Bush received 40 percent of the Hispanic vote the Republicans would win the election.  He was right.  Once the dust from the 2004 presidential race had settled, and dependant upon which exit poll you trusted, it was clear that President Bush won between 45 and 47 percent of the Latino vote.  Liberals were running and screaming in circles because they couldn’t understand why, unfortunately neither did many Republicans.

The simple truth is that in the course of his two successful presidential bids, George W Bush made Latinos feel as if we were a part of his natural constituency and not a special side project.  He also had the wherewithal to hire Lionel Sosa.  In 2005 Mr. Sosa was named one of the 25 most influential Hispanics in America by Time Magazine and is a recognized expert in Latino consumer and voter behavior.

Sosa has also been Hispanic Media Consultant in seven Republican presidential campaigns beginning in 1980 – and his absence from the Romney campaign was duly noted.  In a recent interview Mr. Sosa noted that Bush had a much more moderate stance on immigration [than Romney], leaving room for Latinos to then consider his policy positions on other issues.  And he’s right.

The campaigns of George Bush and Mitt Romney had very similar views on many social and economic issues, and foreign policy – from abortion to same-sex marriage,  job creation and taxes, and the war on terror.  The big difference is and was immigration, and a GOP immigration policy that in 2012 was broadcast to a much larger and broader audience in the Latino community.  Every issue covered during this campaign was painted with an immigration brush stroke.  Univision, Telemundo, daily papers, radio shows, and Spanish language blogs ALL spoke in terms of immigration down to the most minute of details.  Like Pete WIlson.

Most American voters outside of California may have forgotten who he is, but when former California Governor Pete Wilson endorsed Mitt Romney it was national news on all the major Spanish-language broadcast networks earlier this year. Why?  In 1994 Governor Wilson was the proponent of Proposition 187 – a California ballot initiative that prohibited illegal aliens from using health care, public education, and other social services in that state.  Governor Wilson was its strongest supporter and used it as a campaign issue during his 1994 reelection bid, both the governor and his proposal won. When Mitt Romney touted Wilson’s endorsement it became fodder on most Hispanic media.  Romney’s praise for Kris Kobach’s  (author of the much vilified Arizona immigration law) later in the campaign also became a lead story in many dailies and radio shows.

Adding bluster to the false GOP-is-anti-immigrant tirades was the GOP platform plank on the English language.  Here’s what it said (emphasis is mine):

We are grateful to the thousands of new immigrants, many of them not yet citizens, who are serving in the Armed Forces. Their patriotism should encourage us all to embrace the newcomers legally among us, assist their journey to full citizenship, and help their communities avoid isolation from the mainstream of society. To that end, while we encourage the retention and transmission of heritage tongues, we support English as the nation’s official language, a unifying force essential for the educational and economic advancement of—not only immigrant communities— but also our nation as a whole.

Latino media outlets of every kind and most English language ones as well focused and reported almost exclusively on the “we support English as the nation’s official language.”

That type of reporting on the Wilson endorsement or the “English only” aspect of the platform shouldn’t be surprising.  What is shocking is that no one from the GOP addressed those issues.  No one.  Yet those issues, as well as Governor Romney’s unfortunate GOP primary “self deport” comment was all I heard on my TV and in my neighborhood during the campaign.  The significance of all other issues was lost.

At the GOP Convention in Tampa, Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said: “The future of our party is to reach out consistently to have a tone that is open and hospitable to people who share values. The conservative cause would be the governing philosophy as far as the eye could see … and that’s doable if we just stop acting stupid.”  I had hoped someone was listening.

But no – within hours of the election Conservative Diva Michele Malkin publicly excoriated Senator Lindsey Graham (R – SC) for his suggesting a more moderate GOP approach to immigration.  She writes that she is tired of “identity politics” and continues with,

Left-wing academics and activists spurned assimilation as a common goal long ago. Their fidelity lies with bilingualism (a euphemism for native language maintenance over English-first instruction), identity politics, ethnic militancy, extreme multiculturalism, and a borderless continent.

Malkin, with whom I usually agree, is wrong.

Only one of my mother’s grandchildren is bilingual – the others are all monolingual English speakers and since my brothers and I are the immigrants – that’s full assimilation with the first generation.  That’s true for most Hispanics. With the exception of small barrios like mine, more than 60 percent of Latinos speak either English only, or mostly English at home.  We recognize that to succeed we have to learn the language – there’s power in being bilingual.

Mrs. Malkin might be surprised to learn that the majority of Latinos (61%) in the US want a safer border.  As a matter of fact, a plurality of Hispanics wants stricter immigration rules, laws that prohibit the hiring of illegals, and increasing the number of border agents.  And most of us are against amnesty.  Unfortunately the tone, tenor and the messengers from the GOP during (and immediately following) these last two election cycles completely lacked the significant deference needed to properly address Latino concerns.

Talk to us and not just through surrogates.

Latinos are mostly welcoming to the GOP message. We are pro-family – a larger percentage of Latinos are reared in households with a mom and dad than are non-Latin white or African American children.  We are pro-life, when you explain to us what abortion does we listen and contrary to what sinister pro-aborts would have us believe, it resonates with our sense of family.

When you tell us we need stronger borders, we nod our heads – but please refrain from mentioning electrified fences and talk of self-deportation.  Tell us about immigration reform and amnesty and we’ll back you up as long as you don’t pepper your discourse with incredibly offensive terms such as “anchor babies.”

The GOP would have also made greater gains in our community had they not tried to be so damn politically correct.  Someone, somewhere should have pointed out the irony of Mexican-American outrage at US immigration laws.  Mexico has the most oppressive immigration laws in this hemisphere.  They have zero tolerance.  Undocumented workers found in Mexico are at best immediately and summarily deported without trial or chance of appeal. Some languish in brutally harsh jails, and others are shot on the spot.

Would that someone within the GOP have made a case for the hundreds of Mexicans butchered and the thousands of families destroyed because of Obama’s failed gun-running operation Fast and Furious on Spanish language media.  For that matter, how about addressing the President’s position on infanticide on either English or Spanish networks.

As a Latino, an immigrant really who is an American by choice – I have never voted for a Democrat.  Ever.  The fact that I am a “pro-life only” voter makes it that much easier for me to vote Republican because the Democratic Party long ago turned away from acknowledging the  sanctity of life. But on many other issues I find that Democrats have next to nothing to offer me.

As conservatives we need never forget that we are a country of laws and that all who reside here are bound by them, but we need to please listen to Jeb Bush’s warning, and follow George W Bush’s example on immigration and stop being so aggressive in trying to lose the Hispanic vote.  If not, I’m afraid that Florida and Virginia will become Democratic strongholds and Texas will indeed become a swing-state – or as simple-minded liberals call it – “purple.” Note: Raimundo Rojas is the director of Hispanic outreach for the National Right to Life Committee. He is a former president of Florida Right to Life and has presented the pro-life message to millions in Spanish-language media outlets. He represents NRLC at the United Nations as an NGO. Rojas was born in Santiago de las Vegas, Havana, Cuba and he and his family escaped to the United States in 1968.