Republicans Looking for a New Way to Win Over Hispanics

GOP officials are hoping that the party’s renewed focus on economic mobility will resonate with immigrant communities.

Rubio: GOP's Hispanic success story.
National Journal
Josh Kraushaar
July 27, 2014, 4:15 p.m.

Since los­ing the His­pan­ic vote by a whop­ping 44-point mar­gin in 2012, Re­pub­lic­ans have made little pro­gress in Latino out­reach. It’s look­ing in­creas­ingly un­likely that any form of im­mig­ra­tion re­form will pass through Con­gress, leav­ing it a thorny is­sue for Re­pub­lic­ans dur­ing the next pres­id­en­tial elec­tion. The GOP’s hard-liners on im­mig­ra­tion of­ten dom­in­ate the de­bate, and the cur­rent crisis on the bor­der has only mo­bil­ized the party’s im­mig­ra­tion-re­form skep­tics. Even as His­pan­ics aren’t thrilled with the pres­id­ent’s hand­ling of the is­sue, they still over­whelm­ingly sup­port Demo­crats in the midterms, 58 to 32 per­cent in a new Pew Re­search Cen­ter sur­vey.

But Re­pub­lic­ans are quietly test­ing out an al­tern­at­ive ap­proach in their at­tempts to close the ra­cial di­vide: fo­cus­ing on pock­et­book is­sues that dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fect first- and second-gen­er­a­tion His­pan­ic fam­il­ies. Call it the Ru­bio plan, since the Flor­ida sen­at­or has been spend­ing the last year test-driv­ing a po­ten­tial pres­id­en­tial cam­paign mes­sage centered on eco­nom­ic mo­bil­ity, col­lege af­ford­ab­il­ity, tack­ling poverty, and middle-class eco­nom­ic chal­lenges.

In an in­ter­view on Na­tion­al Pub­lic Ra­dio last week, Marco Ru­bio ar­gued that if Re­pub­lic­ans tail­or their policies to­ward work­ing-class voters, their mes­sage would auto­mat­ic­ally res­on­ate with many His­pan­ics. “The vast ma­jor­ity of a sig­ni­fic­ant por­tion of Amer­ic­ans of His­pan­ic des­cent will vote hap­pen to be work­ing-class people who are des­per­ate to not only achieve the Amer­ic­an dream but leave their kids bet­ter off than them­selves,” Ru­bio told NPR host Steve In­s­keep.

If the mes­sage res­on­ates, it could change the con­ven­tion­al wis­dom that im­mig­ra­tion re­form is the only way of reach­ing out to dis­af­fected His­pan­ic voters. If not, it could ce­ment the party’s prob­lems broad­en­ing its co­ali­tion ahead of a crit­ic­al pres­id­en­tial cam­paign.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 5118) }}

“Every ex­per­i­ence that nearly every Amer­ic­an has had dur­ing the eco­nom­ic de­cline — that’s the ex­per­i­ence of every im­mig­rant and their chil­dren. They leave their coun­try and ad­opt a new one for that hope for a bet­ter eco­nom­ic op­por­tun­ity,” said Re­pub­lic­an strategist Joanna Bur­gos, a former Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee of­fi­cial. “To win over His­pan­ics, you have to show you’re a can­did­ate that cares about the com­munity. Show they’re a nat­ur­al part of your cam­paign, and you’re not just spit­ting out some talk­ing points to win their votes.”

In many ways, what lead­ing Re­pub­lic­ans are talk­ing about is akin to the “com­pas­sion­ate con­ser­vat­ism” mes­sage that George W. Bush cam­paigned on in the 2000 elec­tion. Bush was broadly sup­port­ive of im­mig­ra­tion — fam­ously say­ing “fam­ily val­ues do not stop at the Rio Grande” — but also used his re­cord on edu­ca­tion and sup­port for faith-based ini­ti­at­ives, along with his strong re­la­tion­ship as gov­ernor with the Texas Latino com­munity, to win 44 per­cent of the His­pan­ic vote that year.

In­deed, edu­ca­tion was an un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated is­sue that helped win Bush more His­pan­ic sup­port than any oth­er re­cent GOP pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee. Bush cam­paigned on his edu­ca­tion re­forms in Texas, fre­quently lament­ing the “bigotry of low ex­pect­a­tions” as­sumed for in­ner-city stu­dents. His first ma­jor le­gis­la­tion as pres­id­ent was the No Child Left Be­hind ac­count­ab­il­ity bill, which passed with bi­par­tis­an sup­port. These days, former Flor­ida Gov. Jeb Bush talks as much about edu­ca­tion re­form as im­mig­ra­tion as he mulls over a pres­id­en­tial bid.

For His­pan­ic im­mig­rants, edu­ca­tion is an eco­nom­ic is­sue; it’s their tick­et in­to the middle class. It’s no co­in­cid­ence that in the Flor­ida gov­ernor’s race, the state Re­pub­lic­an Party has aired ads fo­cused on GOP Gov. Rick Scott’s edu­ca­tion re­cord, in­clud­ing one with Span­ish-speak­ing fe­male teach­ers laud­ing the pay raises he se­cured. Sen. Rand Paul of Ken­tucky un­veiled his edu­ca­tion agenda at the Urb­an League on Fri­day, where he pro­moted charter schools, vouch­ers, and school choice. The suc­cess­ful trans­form­a­tion of the New Or­leans school sys­tem, decim­ated by Hur­ricane Kat­rina and re­formed from scratch, is likely to be a cent­ral pil­lar in Louisi­ana Gov. Bobby Jin­dal’s cam­paign mes­sage.

“Edu­ca­tion is an is­sue that polls sig­ni­fic­antly bet­ter with His­pan­ics. Every child of every im­mig­rant is in the United States to get an edu­ca­tion to have a bet­ter eco­nom­ic fu­ture. It’s the ma­jor reas­on why they come to the United States,” said Bur­gos.

It’s not only re­form-minded Re­pub­lic­ans who be­lieve that there has been a mis­placed em­phas­is on im­mig­ra­tion as the only way to at­tract His­pan­ic voters. The cent­rist Demo­crat­ic think tank Third Way is­sued a re­port in May titled “Amer­icaña: Bi­par­tis­an Mis­in­ter­pret­a­tion of ‘His­pan­ic Amer­ica,’ ” ar­guing the same point. “[Im­mig­ra­tion] does not reg­u­larly rank high on the list of pri­or­it­ies with­in the com­munity, and it cer­tainly should not be seen as the single de­fin­ing is­sue for His­pan­ic voters,” the re­port reads. It cites a Decem­ber 2013 Pew Re­search Cen­ter sur­vey, where im­mig­ra­tion ranked fifth as a top pri­or­ity among Lati­nos, be­hind jobs, edu­ca­tion, and health care.

“What a lot of Re­pub­lic­ans mis­un­der­stand about the His­pan­ic com­munity is, they as­sume they’re the 47 per­cent. They as­sume they’re poor people who are on gov­ern­ment pro­grams,” said the re­port’s au­thor, Michelle Diggles. “The same type of ideas that you’d use to ap­peal oth­er Amer­ic­ans, to white middle-class Amer­ic­ans, is also what His­pan­ic Amer­ic­ans want. We have to stop act­ing like they’re a dis­tinct group that doesn’t share com­mon Amer­ic­an val­ues.”

That’s one of the biggest dif­fer­ences between Ru­bio’s out­reach, which has been fo­cused on middle-class Amer­ic­ans, and sev­er­al of his pro­spect­ive 2016 chal­lengers, whose at­tempts at win­ning over minor­ity voters have fo­cused on poor Amer­ic­ans. House Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ry­an un­veiled an an­ti­poverty plan Thursday at the Amer­ic­an En­ter­prise In­sti­tute, in line with his high-pro­file out­reach to strug­gling minor­ity com­munit­ies. Rand Paul has cri­ti­cized overly pun­it­ive drug-sen­ten­cing guidelines and elim­in­at­ing vot­ing rights for felons in a bid to ex­pand his ap­peal bey­ond liber­tari­an-minded Re­pub­lic­ans.

Former Amer­ic­an Con­ser­vat­ive Uni­on Chair­man Al Carde­n­as said that many of the GOP’s prob­lems win­ning over His­pan­ic voters stem from prob­lem­at­ic out­reach as much as their policy po­s­i­tions. He ar­gued the party needs to do a bet­ter job high­light­ing their His­pan­ic elec­ted of­fi­cials, giv­en there are more Latino Re­pub­lic­ans serving as gov­ernors and sen­at­ors than Demo­crats. He praised the Re­pub­lic­an Party com­mit­tees’ re­cent ef­forts in hir­ing more minor­ity staffers, in­clud­ing His­pan­ic field or­gan­izers and His­pan­ic me­dia spe­cial­ists, while cau­tion­ing that more needed to be done on that front.

“A lot has to do with the nom­in­ee we se­lect, the skill set they have ad­dress­ing the His­pan­ic com­munity, and the qual­ity of the staff the nom­in­ee sur­rounds him­self with,” Carde­n­as said. “Na­tion­al can­did­ates need to spend more time court­ing the His­pan­ic com­munity as they travel across the coun­try. We cer­tainly need to im­prove the schedul­ing of sig­ni­fic­ant spokes­men for the party.”

Des­pite the high-pro­file ef­forts to broaden the GOP’s co­ali­tion, few Re­pub­lic­ans in­volved with minor­ity out­reach are op­tim­ist­ic about where the party stands. At­tempts to push an an­ti­poverty agenda has been ad­op­ted by sev­er­al na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an fig­ures, but ig­nored by the party’s con­gres­sion­al lead­er­ship and the con­ser­vat­ive grass­roots. Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernors with suc­cess­ful re­cords on edu­ca­tion re­form have been over­shad­owed lately by the grass­roots back­lash against Com­mon Core stand­ards. The new­found fo­cus on bor­der se­cur­ity has raised the risk that a Re­pub­lic­an will make an in­sens­it­ive com­ment that will draw at­ten­tion and ali­en­ate His­pan­ics.

For every step for­ward, Re­pub­lic­ans fret, it feels like the party is tak­ing two steps back­wards. In­deed, it may take a pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee cam­paign­ing on an in­clus­ive plat­form for the en­vir­on­ment to change sig­ni­fic­antly.

“We’ve made baby steps, but we can’t be proud of the baby steps we’ve done,” said Bur­gos. “Be­cause there are still leaps to do.”

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
What the Current Crop of Candidates Could Learn from JFK
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Maher Weighs in on Bernie, Trump and Palin
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

“We haven’t seen a true leftist since FDR, so many millions are coming out of the woodwork to vote for Bernie Sanders; he is the Occupy movement now come to life in the political arena.” So says Bill Maher in his Hollywood Reporter cover story (more a stream-of-consciousness riff than an essay, actually). Conservative states may never vote for a socialist in the general election, but “this stuff has never been on the table, and these voters have never been activated.” Maher saves most of his bile for Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, writing that by nominating Palin as vice president “John McCain is the one who opened the Book of the Dead and let the monsters out.” And Trump is picking up where Palin left off.

Source:
×