US Catholic Faith in Real Life

What happens when Republicans woe Hispanics

Father Tom Joyce CMF | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare


Republicans haven’t been doing well with Hispanics lately, drawing only about 20 percent of their votes in the last two national elections. That’s down from more than 40 percent that voted for George W. Bush in 2004 and similar numbers when he ran for governor of Texas. Carl Rove is credited with his winning those votes, figuring that all a Republican candidate needs to do is draw away enough votes away from the Democrats to win. But under the influence of the Tea Party, Republicans had abandoned that strategy and gave up on Hispanics.

The GOP, however, did quite well with Hispanic candidates in the last election. Two Hispanics were elected governors, a senator and six new congressmen, and members of state legislatures and lesser state office. At the same time Hispanic Republicans cringe at the continued harsh rhetoric about “illlegals” and “border security,” but especially on state proposals to curb birthright citizenship.

Now President Bush’s brother Jebb, who is married to a Hispanic and won wide support from Hispanics—mostly anti-Castro Cuban voters—in his own campaigns for governor of Florida is trying to resurrect a Hispanic strategy. Former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich is counseling the same. One minor success they and their allies seem already to have won was to deny chairmanship of the House Immigration Subcommittee to Rep. Steve King (IA), who is extreme in his views on immigration. The new chair is not all that better but is more muted. Perhaps the Hispanics Republicans, who generally support a “border security first” approach to immigration reform, will at least succeed is turning the House GOP leadership entirely away from the citizenship issue.

There is logic to a strategy of appealing to Hispanics for their votes by the GOP. By mid-century, if not sooner, Hispanics will be more than a third of the electorate. Republicans don’t want to make the same mistake they made is swallowing the Nixon “southern strategy”—alienating the black vote by appealing to disgruntled whites because of the civil rights movement. That’s a danger in their wedding themselves to the Tea Party.

Most Hispanics are by nature conservative and cautious. Republican candidates lose them when their rhetoric caricatures them as an “invaders,” “law breakers,” and terms less civil. The ambitions of most undocumented immigrants are much the same as those of most Americans—jobs, a good living to support their families, education for their children. That some have difficulty in the transition to the new culture is not unlike what previous waves of immigrants experienced when they first came.

Most Hispanic voters will probably continue to support Democrats, but that's more a poverty issue. It seems strange that, while Republicans prize the entrepreneurial spirit, most ignore that Hispanics have demonstrated it in spades. Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, however, recognizes it, lauds the immigrant, and welcomes them as the future of the city.

The efforts of Jebb Bush, Gingrich, and others in the GOP to moderate the rhetoric so as not to scare off Hispanic votes should be welcomed. It’s not just opportunistic and represents deep feelings for the Hispanic communities. This is obvious with the newly elected Hispanics Republicans. There are old GOP allies who can be less intimidated by the Tea Party din and return to support new efforts—like Senators John McCain and Orrin Hatch.

Some Hispanic activists are now even rejecting the Democrats for only offering words but few deeds and propose a “Tequila Party” that, not unlike the Tea Party, would aim to make their concerns a bigger priority. If a credible Hispanic voice—and it’s a big if—arises in the GOP, perhaps the nation can turn from making the immigrant a scapegoat and pushing costly boondoggles like the “fence” to get down to hammering out a real comprehensive reform.