Mitt Romney doesn't have a choice. Without a Hispanic running mate, he doesn't stand a chance of winning a significant portion of the Hispanic vote, which is what he needs in the swing states that will determine who gets to be president.
Perhaps this is the reason why Romney has been so dismissive of Latino voters while pandering to xenophobic extremists during the GOP primaries. Perhaps all along he has planned to thrash immigrants in the primaries and then — in a quick Etch-A-Sketch revision — name a Latino running mate who can help him in the general election, just because of his surname.
It wouldn't be surprising. After all, that has been the Republican approach to winning Latino votes in recent years. They don't even try to win us over on the issues, because they know they would lose. But they can always find a Tío Tómas who will stand against the interest of his own community and still get some support from Latinos — just because his name might be Rubio or Martinez.
Unfortunately, this Machiavellian strategy works. Blinded by nationalistic pride, too many Latinos still will vote for another Latino, even when the candidate clearly is following a partisan, anti-Hispanic game plan.
But would this strategy work for Romney? After going further than any other GOP candidate to alienate Latinos, after falling 69 to 22 percent behind President Barack Obama in a recent poll of Latino voters, can Romney be saved by putting a Hispanic surname on the ticket?
Mind you, Republicans never expect to win a majority of the Hispanic vote. All they want is a portion — at least 40 percent — that is large enough to divide and neutralize the Latino voting bloc and to prevent Latinos from swinging some key states for Democrats. Barack Obama is president because Sen. John McCain got only 31 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2008. Romney is at 22 percent!
So can Florida Sen. Marco Rubio or New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez take Romney up to the 40 percent of Latino voters he would need to beat Obama?
No way, Jose! Perhaps one of them could help Romney win a swing state such as Florida or New Mexico. Perhaps Rubio could give him a boost among Cuban-Americans. But nationally, among Latinos, either a Romney-Rubio or Romney-Martinez ticket would be soundly defeated by Obama-Biden.
It might have been different if Romney had not gone over a cliff while running to the right during the primaries, and if Rubio or Martinez had demonstrated some compassion for undocumented immigrants instead of pandering to fanatical immigrant bashers.
If Romney had managed to at least remain as moderate as McCain in 2008, if he had stuck to the typical "secure the border first" GOP rhetoric and then picked a Latino running mate who actually stands for Latino issues, Obama would be in trouble.
After all, the president still has many Latinos criticizing his failure to drive comprehensive immigration reform through Congress.
But this year, while trying to prove that he is a "true conservative," Romney obviously decided to scapegoat undocumented immigrants, and Latino Republicans who condoned his draconian ideas — including Rubio and Martinez — lost the respect of many Latino voters.
Unlike Rubio's predecessor, former Sen. Mel Martinez, who often challenged his fellow Republicans to find some compassion for undocumented immigrants, Rubio and Martinez are Tea Party darlings, especially because they are willing to dis their own people. While his fellow Cuban-Americans gave Rubio a majority of the Latino vote when he was elected in Florida, Martinez became New Mexico's governor without even the support of a majority of Latino voters in her own state.
These are the two Latinos who could be running with Romney and the ones who could easily start a firestorm debate among Latinos: Do we vote for issues or surnames?
Do we vote for Rubio or Martinez, even if they are making excuses for Romney's insensitivity toward Latinos?
Romney was the first of the GOP candidates to reject legalizing undocumented immigrants, even after the U.S-Mexico border is secured. He supports English-only measures that could disenfranchise many Hispanic-Americans and disempower many Latino voters. He pledged to veto the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act and pounce on Gov. Rick Perry for supporting a Texan Dream Act.
Although his Etch A Sketch already denies it, Romney is the one who said Arizona's racial profiling, immigrant-bashing SB 1070 is "a model" for the nation; he is the one who said he would withdraw federal lawsuits against states with such discriminatory laws. He was the first to admit that Republicans intend to make undocumented immigrants so miserable that they would want to "self-deport."
Perhaps this is the reason why Romney reportedly admitted last week that he would be "doomed" without more support from Latinos. Perhaps this is the reason why we may see the first Hispanic nominated to the vice presidency by a major party. Romney may not have a choice but to pick a Hispanic running mate.
But the Latino politician who has to defend that agenda in the Hispanic community would have to be amazingly cynical, willing to insult his own people's intelligence — a terrific snake-oil peddler.
Yet we would have "the First Latino Vice President." What a job!
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.