Give the Republican Party credit: After drawing fewer than 23 percent of Latino votes in the last presidential election, the GOP will now spend $10 million nationally trying to build permanent ground organizations and “a year-round presence” in Latino neighborhoods around the nation.
But also recognize that this is strictly tokenism: You don’t sway the nation’s fastest-growing ethnic voting bloc by spending less on it than on many campaigns for a single seat in Congress.
You also don’t win over Latinos simply by saying you’re going to be hanging around their neighborhoods and pestering them from time to time.
Finally, you don’t win over Latinos or any other ethnic group simply by recruiting candidates “who look like them,” one of the nostrums pledged by Jim Brulte, the onetime state senator who now chairs the California Republican Party.
Nope, there appear to be only two ways for the Republican Party to win even close to half the Latino vote (about 73 percent of Hispanics cast ballots last time for Democratic President Barack Obama):
One is to run a celebrity candidate a la Arnold Schwarzenegger. Each time he ran for governor, he pulled almost half the Latino vote, chiefly because (exit polls showed), many youthful Hispanics thought having the “Terminator” as governor was cool. Trouble is, there are no prominent celebrities now publicly evincing interest in running as Republicans for any office.
The second way to win over voters – and Latinos are no different from others – is to take policy positions congruent with their views. The GOP isn’t doing this, either.
Its members in the House of Representatives have bottled up the Senate’s immigration bill, even though the plan’s pathway to citizenship for the undocumented is extremely arduous, for about six months, knowing full well it would pass if it ever came to a vote.
They’re still in denial about climate change. They do what they can to thwart abortions. And so on and so on.
They believe their stances are congruent with most Hispanic voters on almost all issues except immigration, where many of their leaders are on record saying that illegal immigrants all are criminals who cost the American taxpayer billions of dollars.
But polling by the usually reliable Latino Voices firm has found in the past year that Latinos back measures to limit greenhouse gases and climate change, while also favoring abortion on demand and strict gun controls. Plus, several surveys have found Latinos – like other voters – mostly blame Republicans in Congress for last fall’s lengthy government shutdown and the brinksmanship over whether to raise the national debt ceiling or risk defaulting on bonds and other loans.
So the GOP assumption about Latinos eventually joining them because of their adamant stances on social and fiscal issues does not fly.
But it’s immigration that hurts Republicans most. One Latino Decisions survey last summer found that about three-fourths of U.S. citizen Hispanics have either a family member or close acquaintance who is undocumented. Legalizing those people is their No. 1 issue.
The closest congressional Republicans have come to acquiescing on that issue is to allow some concessions to so-called “Dreamers,” children brought here by illegal immigrant parents.
That won’t cut it in the vote-getting department.
Even some Republicans realize this. Lanhee Chen, a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution who was presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s policy director in the 2012 campaign, told a reporter the party’s message “is going to be very difficult to convey unless we can demonstrate some seriousness about solving the broken immigration system.”
That’s an understatement. The typical GOP outreach effort in recent years has been to eat an enchilada in a Mexican-American neighborhood while listening to a mariachi band.
But Jennifer Korn, the Republican National Committee’s deputy political director for Hispanic initiatives, told a luncheon last fall that the new GOP outreach is different from past ones. “We’re starting early . . . and we’re going to stay even after the (2014) election is over,” she said.
That’s little more than a repeat of the usual Republican whistling past the Latino graveyard. The party will win over very few Latinos unless it invests much more and changes some of its fundamental positions.
Thomas Elias is a California author. Reach him at [email protected]