¿GOP en Español? Not So Fast

While the House Republican Conference tries to court some voters in Spanish, some of their own are fighting the effort.

Voters in Miami line up in the dark on election day. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
National Journal
Ben Terris
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Ben Terris
Feb. 11, 2013, 9:52 a.m.

One chal­lenge fa­cing Re­pub­lic­an out­reach to His­pan­ic voters is that the party is not speak­ing their lan­guage — and not just meta­phor­ic­ally.

Load­ing feed…

In an ef­fort to ad­dress the com­mu­nic­a­tions gap, the House Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence had planned last week to launch GOP en Es­pañol, which would trans­late and dis­trib­ute Re­pub­lic­an re­ac­tions to the State of the Uni­on speech in Span­ish. But not every­one was on board.

Staffers work­ing for two Con­gress­men, Eng­lish-only hard­liner Rep. Steve King of Iowa and Jim Sensen­bren­ner of Wis­con­sin, were in­vited to dis­cuss the pro­gram. King’s team ar­gued that the new pro­gram sent mixed sig­nals about the im­port­ance of Eng­lish in the United States. In an ef­fort to build con­sensus, the con­fer­ence de­cided to delay the an­nounce­ment.

“There’s a con­flict­ing mes­sage that comes out from the Re­pub­lic­ans if we want to re­cog­nize the uni­fy­ing power of Eng­lish, and mean­while, we send out com­mu­nic­a­tions in mul­tiple lan­guages,” King said in an in­ter­view with Na­tion­al Journ­al. “Of­fi­cial busi­ness and doc­u­ments needs to be in Eng­lish.”

The res­ist­ance be­hind closed doors con­trasts with the pub­lic pos­ture taken by most Re­pub­lic­an Party lead­ers since sev­en out of 10 His­pan­ic voters re­jec­ted Mitt Rom­ney in the 2012 elec­tion, and may give the party more reas­ons to worry about King’s pos­sible run for the soon-to-be-open Sen­ate seat in Iowa. Already, the Karl Rove-backed su­per PAC Amer­ic­an Cross­roads has launched the Con­ser­vat­ive Vic­tory Pro­ject to help quash primary can­did­ates it views as out­side the main­stream and destined to lose a gen­er­al elec­tion. Since he is of­ten seen on the fringe of the party, King could be a tar­get if he runs for the seat left va­cant by re­tir­ing Demo­crat Tom Har­kin. 

After in­quir­ies from Na­tion­al Journ­al about the GOP en Es­pan­ol pro­gram’s post­pone­ment, a spokes­man for the House Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence, Nate Hod­son, denied it was ever in the works. Later, Hod­son said the pro­gram was lim­ited to a Twit­ter handle.

“We’re com­mit­ted at con­fer­ence to tak­ing our con­ser­vat­ive mes­sage and val­ues to every corner of Amer­ic­an — to young people, to wo­men, to His­pan­ics, to seni­ors —  which is why it is great to see strong con­ser­vat­ive lead­ers like Sen­at­or [Marco] Ru­bio giv­ing to­mor­row’s of­fi­cial Re­pub­lic­an re­sponse to the State of the Uni­on in both Eng­lish and Span­ish,” Hod­son said in a state­ment, re­fer­ring to the Flor­ida Re­pub­lic­an.

King has been an avid ad­voc­ate in the Eng­lish-first move­ment, work­ing for six years to make it the of­fi­cial lan­guage of his state, and he is the au­thor of a bill de­clar­ing it the of­fi­cial lan­guage of the United States. He says that Eng­lish is “em­power­ing and uni­fy­ing” and that the GOP en Es­pañol pro­gram “sends a sub­lim­in­al mes­sage in con­tra­dic­tion.”

Mem­bers of U.S. Eng­lish, an ad­vocacy group fight­ing to make Eng­lish the of­fi­cial lan­guage  of the coun­try, were also in­vited to week’s meet­ing. Chair­man Mauro Mujica said they were “go­ing to fight this, from the point of view that it’s in­sane.”

“First and fore­most, we ob­ject that they will be us­ing fed­er­al funds,” he said. “Plus, this is just pan­der­ing to the His­pan­ic votes, which is in­sult­ing to them. And why Span­ish? Why not Korean, or Chinese, or any oth­er lan­guage?”

The GOP es­tab­lish­ment has largely thrown its weight be­hind spe­cial out­reach to Span­ish-speak­ing cit­izens, ac­know­ledging that the party’s sur­viv­al de­pends on a softer touch with the His­pan­ic com­munity, the fast­est grow­ing part of the elect­or­ate. Con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans are in­creas­ingly call­ing for im­mig­ra­tion re­form. Ru­bio, a lead­ing spokes­man for an im­mig­ra­tion over­haul, is plan­ning to de­liv­er his State of the Uni­on re­but­tal in both Eng­lish and Span­ish.

When asked wheth­er he wor­ried that fight­ing the GOP en Es­pañol  ini­ti­at­ive would dam­age to the party’s ef­forts to build a broad­er co­ali­tion, King said he did have con­cerns. But at the end of the day, he said, it is less about the lan­guage and more about hon­ing a bet­ter mes­sage.

“Simply tak­ing a Re­pub­lic­an mes­sage and in­ter­pret­ing it to an­oth­er lan­guage doesn’t get it out a lot more,” he said. “I don’t think we are good at get­ting our mes­sage out in Eng­lish, we need to fix that first.”

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