How to Lose an Election by Alienating Latinos

By Miguel Perez

November 13, 2012 7 min read

Back in August, when Republicans still were in denial about the depth of the hole they had dug for themselves in the Hispanic community during the GOP primaries, back when they thought that having Sen. Marco Rubio and a few other Latino surrogates defending their xenophobia would be enough to confuse Latino voters, this column made an easy prediction: "If President Barack Obama wins reelection, mark my words: Romney will be remembered as the candidate who wrote the book on how to lose an election by alienating Latino voters."

Well, the book has been written!

Now that Mitt Romney got only 27 of the Latino vote and came second to Bob Dole's 1996 record low of only 21 percent support from Latinos, even some prominent Republicans are coming out of the woodwork to thrash Romney's immigrant-bashing policies. They are openly admitting that they alienated Latino voters.

Ah! Vindication! How sweet it is!

Those Republican politicians who feared the backlash of xenophobic extremists in the past now are realizing that the Latino backlash can be even more painful.

Some who have flirted with immigration reform in the past, such as Sen. Lindsay Graham, suddenly have found new courage to speak bluntly about the issue.

"It's one thing to shoot yourself in the foot," Graham said Sunday on CBS' "Face The Nation," referring to GOP support among Hispanics. "Just don't reload the gun ... We have nobody to blame but ourselves when it comes to losing Hispanics."

Even those Republicans who don't want to admit that it was Latinos voters who gave them a whooping on Election Day now are claiming that they "misread the demographics" — as if there was a difference.

The Latino Republican surrogates who spent the entire campaign making excuses for Romney's anti-immigrant posture now are hypocritically coming off as if they were progressive immigrant rights activists. Even insensitive loudmouths like Fox News' Sean Hannity — people who have made careers out of bashing immigrants — now are claiming to be "evolving" on immigration and open to creating a "pathway to citizenship" for undocumented immigrants without criminal records.

Of course, this flip-flop by many Republicans has much more to do with self-preservation — saving their party from demographic extinction — than with newfound GOP compassion for immigrants.

If Romney had been elected, perhaps it would have taken Republicans much longer to realize that they cannot win presidential elections by promoting xenophobia, racial profiling and draconian measures that offend Latinos.

But we can turn that page now. At least on immigration, it doesn't look like moderate Republicans are willing to continue following the lead of right-wing extremists. Of course, some hardliners still will be out there, promoting hatred against people who only seek an opportunity to pursue the American Dream. But that loud minority now will be somewhat stifled by those who want their party to survive.

Comprehensive immigration reform — with a path to legalization for 11 million undocumented immigrants — is finally coming, because the Democrats want it and, more importantly, because the Republicans need it. They simply can't afford to continue depending on white voters and alienating the fastest-growing segment of the population.

But if they are to make some real headway with Latinos, they have to stop treating us as if we were stupid. They have to stop supporting measures we know would be harmful to our community, like making English the official language of government. And they have to stop expecting us to vote for Latino surnames over substance and ideology.

It's not about a few token brown faces. It's about brown policies.

If their Latino politicians keep defending the GOP's anti-immigrant agenda, as some shamefully have, there is no way they can bring more Latinos to the Republican Party. And if they keep playing surrogates for presidential candidates who pander to immigrant haters, their credibility among their won people will be down to nada .

Of course, even in returning from the dark side, Latino Republicans need to be careful. They can't pretend to suddenly see all the wrongs they ignored before the election.

Take former Romney apologist Carlos Gutierrez, who is now going after "the far right" of his own party for "scaring the heck" out of Latinos. When I heard the former commerce secretary discussing immigration on a Sunday morning TV talk show, I couldn't believe my ears.

He was complaining that "the anti-immigration talk, the xenophobes" almost made it seem "as if we were living in the past."

Mind you, this is a man who had spent the entire campaign repulsively spinning and whitewashing Romney's immigration policies for Latino audiences, especially on Spanish television, and who was now coming off as if he was the other Gutierrez — Rep. Luis Gutierrez, the Illinois Democrat who indeed has been a champion of immigrant and Latino issues.

"The Hispanics I know were scared of the Republican Party," Gutierrez said on CNN's State of the Union. "I think it has to do with our incredibly ridiculous primary process, where we force people to say outrageous things, they get nominated, and they have to come back."

Obama's victory, the influence of Latino voters, the backlash against Republicans over immigration, the beginning of the end of an era of intolerance in America — all of that was predictable. But seeing Carlos Gutierrez suddenly turn into Luis Gutierrez, that was a faster flip than anyone expected.

"If we want to be the party of growth and prosperity, we have to be the party of immigration," he said. "We should be leading comprehensive immigration reform. We should be leading the Dream Act, and not the military Dream Act, students as well. We should be getting rid of things like English as the official language of government. We have to be welcoming immigrants."

Really? And why weren't you saying all this publicly only a couple of weeks ago? Did you say these things to Romney when you were advising him?

Nevertheless, this is the kind of transformation we can now expect from many Republicans who want to appeal to Latino voters in the future, not because they have found new compassion for immigrants but because they want their party to survive.

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.

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