As a Democrat, predictably, I find all of the presidential candidates and the policies they support anathema to everything I believe this country needs right now. Their “solutions” are regurgitated failures that have been tried before and are a big reason President Obama inherited an economy on the brink of another Great Depression.
As a Latina however, I find myself scratching my head and wondering whether the GOP candidates even know – or care – there is a powerful and growing Latino voting population in critical swing states that hold the key to any Republican who wants to work in the Oval Office.
During the last several GOP Presidential debates, I sat dumbfounded on several instances where the GOP candidates were unwilling or frankly, unable to even articulate a single thing they would do to capture the Latino vote. When that question was posed at the GOP Tea Party debate, not one candidate mentioned how they would create additional jobs for Latinos, or create additional economic opportunity. Instead, they tripped over each over trying to see who could use the phrase “government dole” more times, and who would do a better job of keeping the “illegals” out. It was downright offensive.
One could argue the GOP candidates are playing to their base. This would explain their insistence on building the border fence, being against the Dream Act, and attacking Perry for having been on the “wrong” side of both of these issues. But unfortunately, if you look at the recent history of GOP candidates across the board and how they have run their campaigns, it seems the truth is much more disturbing.
Since 2005 when Jim Sensenbrenner authored the draconian and extreme Border Protection, Anti-terrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act which passed the House with 92% of Republicans supporting it, the Republican Party did an extreme about-face when it comes to talking to Latino voters and trying to capture their votes.
The result? Democrats won back the House in 2006, Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, and Democrats retained the Senate in the face of a tremendous Republican wave in 2010. While not the sole reason all of the above happened, a very large part of why these happened can be rightly attributed to Latinos supporting Democrats and rejecting the vile anti-immigrant/anti-Hispanic stances of Republicans in the last four years.
If the Republicans don’t learn to speak respectfully to Latinos who are business owners, managers, doctors, nurses, academics, mothers, fathers, teachers, police officers, firefighters, and yes, working people just trying to make a living, 2012 will be no different.
Matthew Dowd, a Republican pollster said in 2004 that if George W. Bush did not garner at least 40% of the Latino vote in that year’s election, he would not be elected. He got exactly that. So imagine if in 2004, the required GOP Latino vote share was 40%, in 2012, after an explosion of growth around the country and in key battleground states that percentage has got to be at least 44 or 45% if not more. But for the sake of keeping things statistically correct, let’s stick with 40%. In a few recent polls by Latino Decisions, a polling firm specializing in polling Latinos, the vote share for the Republican Party does not break 19%. That is a 21 point, jaw-droppingly huge gap the Republicans need to bridge in order to have a prayer of winning the White House in 2012.
It is no wonder Republican elders like Jeb Bush are sternly reminding the GOP how foolish it is to alienate Latino voters with offensive, over-the-top rhetoric that does nothing but drive Latinos to support Democrats if only to punish a party by letting them know their words have consequences. Just ask Sharon Angle in Nevada, who famously told a group of Latino students that many of them “looked Asian” to her. She ended up with 9% of the Latino vote and handed Harry Reid the election.
But let’s get back to the 2012 candidates. On every single issue that is important to Latinos – jobs, education, health care, small businesses, Social Security, and yes, immigration, the GOP presidential candidates are on the complete opposite side.
On jobs, the GOP candidates would drastically slash budgets and programs that would help keep Latinos employed or help the millions of unemployed Latinos across the country. On education, the GOP candidates would slash education investment and Pell Grants which have given hundreds of thousands of Latino students the chance to go to college. The GOP candidates would all repeal “Obamacare,” when it has provided 9 million Latinos health care coverage who didn’t have it before. We already know what the GOP wants to do with Social Security – if they are not calling it a Ponzi scheme and saying it is unconstitutional, they want to privatize it and put it in the hands of Wall Street. Social Security kept 20 million Americans out of poverty including almost half of Latino seniors.
On immigration, what Republicans don’t understand is what Latinos hear when GOP candidates say “We are for legal immigration but against illegal immigration.” When the GOP makes this statement, they normally follow it up with something like “we need to secure the border first.” To Latinos, this is code for “We will never support a path to legalization for the millions of ‘illegals’ who are here.”
Again, the GOP is playing to their base, offering extreme right-wing platitudes and no real solutions, and continuing to alienate Latinos in the process. This is not a policy answer to the more than 12 million undocumented immigrants who are here and are not going anywhere anytime soon.
Republicans had better the heed the advice of many of their strategists and elected officials who understand their ultimate fate can very well be in the hands of Latino voters in 2012. If the things that come out of their mouths don’t change, the only way they will ever see the inside of La Casa Blanca is via a guided tour.
This article was originally published in the Huff Post LATINO VOICES.
Maria Cardona is a Democratic strategist, a principal at the Dewey Square Group, founder of Latinovations, a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton, and former communications director to the Democratic National Committee.