The relationship between the GOP and Latinos could be summed up in a 80s teen romantic comedy. They are the two young kids who actually like each other, but because of stupid mishaps along the way, never seem to connect. All the while they are both asking the same question: “Why don’t you like me?”
Last week a Fox News poll found that 60 percent of likely Latino voters believe that the Democrats will help them achieve the American Dream, while only 10 percent thought the Republican Party would do so. The poll also stated likely Latino voters favor President Obama by six-to-one over any of the Republican presidential nominees. Worse still for the GOP almost half of the Latinos who supported McCain in ’08 say they will vote for Obama in 2012.
Most GOP strategists have held to the belief that Latinos are Republicans — they just don’t know it yet. To a large extent they are correct, as Latinos are generally, despite what louder voices may say, fiscally and even socially conservative on a myriad of issues. The poll shows that Latinos, like all other groups, see the economy as the number one issue facing the country. Yet immigration, while polling last in priorities, is still a strong emotional issue when it comes to backing a GOP candidate.
Obama has fault on his failure to fulfill the campaign promise of moving reform forward in his first 90 days. A decision was made in ’08 that putting immigration forward then would kill Democrats in the mid-term election, something that happened at no-fault to reform. What we have seen since then has been a montage of state actions pushing “enforcement only” policies. Starting with Arizona and moving across the country all of these efforts have been lead by Republicans. To state it plainly on behalf of our community: “We get it, you don’t want any illegals here.”
Fast forward to 2012 and the GOP is in serious trouble. Republican Party strategist Whit Ayres said responding to the poll, “If we don’t do better among Latinos, we are not going to be talking about how to get back Florida in the presidential race, we are going to be talking about how not to lose Texas.”
Years ago when I was in the Clinton White House, my boss and mentor Suzanna Valdez and I would discuss how the country would change with the growing Latino community. She said, “corporate America will be forced to adapt and give greater recognition to Latinos out of pure economic interest.” You see that today by another of Ayer’s response to the poll- “We will do better, in part because we are not stupid. We can count.” The question now is when will they start?
I can predict that the GOP will more than likely create and march around a “Juan the Plumber” this year in an effort to showcase how they relate to the average working class Hispanic. But I can also guarantee the Democrats will run an ad in Spanish showing a crowded room of Republicans at the Arizona debate applauding Sherriff Joe Arpio and insert a Mitt Romney (if he’s the nominee) sound byte on “self-deportation.” If the negative campaigning in the primary is any indication, this will be an ugly election and when it comes to Latinos and immigration, all the GOP has is Obama’s failed promise. But all Obama will have to do is shift the blame to the GOP and run ad after ad showing Republicans talking about more and more enforcement.
Here is the crazy thing: if the GOP could shift on this one issue and they could by taking more of a Regan approach, they could win both the heart and mind of the fastest growing voter block in the country. The ’08 love-fest of “Hope & Change” is long gone, crushed by an ongoing poor economy. Latinos, like the rest of the country, just want solutions.
“We don’t like you, because you act like you don’t like us.” Maybe at some point they’ll get that, but at this rate they more than likely will lose Texas before they figure it out.
Jose Cruz is the editor of OurTiempo.com worked in the Clinton White House and on three Presidential campaigns. He is the founder of ImmigrationPAC a pro-comprehensive immigration reform Federal Polical Action Committee and active political commentator.[Photo By The Rachel Maddow Show]