Thomas Schaller explores the disconnect between the GOP and Latino voters in his article on Salon.com, “GOP’s Latino problem gets worse.” Schaller notes that the Obama campaign enjoyed substantial support from Hispanic voters in the 2008 Presidential Election, and even carried the majority of the Cuban-American vote. Cuban-Americans are often thought of as a more conservative sub-group of the overall Hispanic voting demographic. This development and the fact that Democratic candidates tend to be substantially more popular among non-white voters present an uphill battle for conservative candidates.
With a contentious presidential election on the horizon, it is time for center-right candidates to reach out to the fastest growing population of voters in the country. In his article, Schaller cites Arizona Senator John McCain’s analysis that the GOP is suffering from a “tonal problem” that creates an “us versus them” environment. Senator McCain stated that candidates should drop “the” from “the Hispanics” to improve relations to bridge the gap. Improving the language of the Party and its candidates is a good first step, but as a Hispanic voter, I am of the opinion that they need to do far more than just change their rhetoric. Schaller goes on to point out that policy missteps, such as Arizona’s anti-immigration law and the remarks of public figures like Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio have damaged relations with a powerful voting bloc. But, it is not only the GOP that has hurt its reputation with Hispanics.
After pledging to enact immigration reform in his 2008 campaign, the Obama administration has set a new record for deportations in the past year and has not delivered the legislation promised. These factors have not gone unnoticed by Hispanic voters, but they are underpublicized. I anticipate the current administration will make political appointments of a few Hispanics throughout the upcoming year to curry favor with Hispanic voters. The Obama administration is also likely to attempt to pass immigration reform legislation in 2012, but this may prove to be a political maneuver. Since Obama currently has the power of appointment to improve his image with Hispanics, the real question is: how can the GOP best court the Hispanic vote without the advantage of executive powers?
In his article Schaller considers the possibility of the GOP Presidential Candidate naming an up-and-coming Hispanic leader, for example, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, as their running mate; Schaller also notes that national Hispanic support Senator Rubio is unproven outside the state of Florida. I believe that such speculation on naming an unproven Hispanic candidate for Vice President is premature, and may ultimately prove irresponsible because, regardless of the running mate and their track record, if the selection is made too early it will look like a publicity maneuver.
Instead of making a knee-jerk reaction to predictable tactics from the current administration, the GOP ought to look at the Hispanic Leadership Network’s “Inspiring Action” Conference in Miami at the end of January. This is the perfect opportunity for the Party to build a foundation of support from the Hispanic community. Furthermore, Senator Marco Rubio, who will be in attendance, will have a chance to clarify his policy positions and prove himself to the GOP, Hispanics, and other voters. Other Hispanic policy advocates, and potential Vice Presidential candidates, will also be attending the conference and will have their opportunities to make an impression as well.
HLN is also co-sponsoring the GOP Presidential Debate with CNN and the Republican Party of Florida on January 26th. This is a chance for the GOP to engage Hispanics and begin to build a strong ground game in the battleground state of Florida. This conference will feature many local and national Hispanic leaders and could potentially build the necessary momentum to grow widespread Hispanic support for the GOP. It is also a good opportunity to highlight the current administration’s inaction on immigration reform and massive deportation strategy, while setting out a clear position on responsible immigration reform and other pressing issues.
The GOP ought to recognize and seize this opportunity to rebuild some bridges and build new ones with Hispanics through similar efforts in other states. If all goes well, the Party might even find itself a proven and qualified candidate for Vice President who happens to be Hispanic.