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The GOP and Hispanics: It’s Complicated

by Mahwish Khan on 08/29/2012 at 3:32pm

Voz Y VotoMaribel Hastings is a Senior Advisor at America’s Voice:

They say that the first step toward fixing a problem is acknowledging that the problem exists. But at times during this Republican National Convention, the struggle to get the Republican Party to acknowledge that it has a serious Hispanic problem has bordered on the absurd.

If I can return to the elephant metaphor one more time: Romney’s Hispanic problem is the elephant in the room. Everyone’s tripping over it, but nobody will admit it’s there.

At a Hispanic Leadership Network (HLN) event, it was refreshing to hear ex-governor of Florida Jeb Bush say that the Republican Party can preach its conservative philosophy in an open and welcoming way to a group that shares its values “if we just stop acting stupid.” Of course, later, some Hispanic officials tried to downplay the comment. But Bush made it only a few days after his appearance Sunday on Meet the Press, where he said that to protect the future of conservatism Republicans would have to reach a larger audience, and that the anti-immigrant rhetoric and tone coming from Republicans has hurt the party. “You can’t ask people to join your cause and then send a signal that you’re really not wanted,” he said Sunday.

And Romney’s spokespeople and surrogates, wherever they go, keep getting dogged with questions about how anti-immigrant rhetoric has buried the Republican Party’s chances of being seen as a viable alternative for Hispanic voters.

But their preferred strategy continues to be to evade the topic entirely, attempting to steer the conversation toward the economy.

On the first of the campaign’s daily press calls with the Spanish-language press, Republican congressman Quico Canseco got the question, and his answer was “we have a nearly bankrupt economy.”

One animal metaphor isn’t enough to express the strength of Republican denial on this issue: instead of acknowledging reality and taking the bull by the horns on the immigration issue, Republicans appear committed to conducting an entire campaign with their heads in the sand.

Seventy days before the election, Romney’s level of support among Hispanics is abysmal. Polls don’t show him reaching 30% in vote share. The message that Romney will offer a solution for the economy and fix unemployment isn’t working with Hispanics—and this is a voter bloc with one of the highest unemployment rates across all demographics.

And if it’s not working now, it doesn’t take a genius to conclude that the anti-immigrant—and, really, anti-Hispanic—rhetoric coming from the GOP has made a profound impression on Latino voters. That impression’s been reinforced by their presidential candidate—a man who has embraced “self-deportation,” promised to veto the DREAM Act in its current form, and sworn to pull the plug on the Department of Justice’s lawsuits against states like Arizona and Alabama for their anti-immigrant laws (SB 1070 and HB 56, respectively).

As far as deferred action for DREAMers goes: all Romney’s surrogates say he wants a “permanent solution,” not a two-year reprieve. But Republicans voted en masse against that same permanent solution—the DREAM Act itself. And while deferred action is similar to Marco Rubio’s long-gestating “DREAM Act light,” in that neither would grant a path to citizenship for DREAMers, Rubio has yet to produce a bill.

Former United States Treasurer Rosario Marín called deferred action an “insult to the Latino community because (Obama) did it at the last possible moment.”

The Convention certainly doesn’t lack for Latino speakers, and once Romney is officially named the nominee the campaign plans to ramp up its Spanish-language advertising to appeal to Latino voters who now view their candidate with distrust.

Marín is among those who think that Romney’s economic message will strike a chord with Latinos. For the past four years, she said, the community has been afflicted by unemployment, and another four years of Obama would bring more of the same. “If that’s what you want, vote for him,” she said.

“Here (at the Convention) we see Latinos who are very enthusiastic about the possibility of having Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan as president and vice president. Ask any of them. We’re excited because we know that they’re going to take care of the most important issue first—the economy,” she continued.

When told that while this might be true in the convention hall, it’s not true of Latino voters in the rest of the country—as shown in poll after poll—Marín responded: “We’re all voters here.”

Head, meet sand.

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