Mitt Romney rarely scores a knockout. Usually, his victory (or concession) speeches feature words of caution about it being a long race and that slowly but surely he will garner the delegates necessary to win the GOP nomination. He may think that prospect is inevitable, but to everyone else it just looks interminable. With that track record, it would seem justifiable if Romney were in the mood to celebrate (with non-alcoholic beverages, of course) when he wiped the floor with Rick Santorum in the Puerto Rico primary last Sunday. Romney won a whopping 83% of the vote in the four-man race, clinching the support of all twenty Puerto Rican delegates. Drink up, Mitt: GOP love from Latinos looks to be a one-night stand.
Theoretically, Latinos should be a key Republican constituency. They are among the most religious ethnic groups in the United States, with only 8% self-identifying as secular, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. In 2008, Catholics (which comprise 68% of American Latinos) voted for Barack Obama 54%-45% over John McCain. But when the polls count only white Catholics the numbers nearly flip to 52%-47% in favor of McCain. That reversal comes from the 67% support Obama enjoyed from Latinos. As the fastest growing American minority, Latinos enjoy increasing clout in electoral politics–not that most Republicans have noticed.
This Republican primary season has been replete with head-scratching statements from men who claim to want to lead the Land of the Free. Newt Gingrich referred to Spanish as the “language of the ghetto” as a defense for decreeing English to be the official language of the United States. Rick Santorum’s Achilles heel in the Puerto Rico race was his statement to El Vocero, the leading Puerto Rican daily, that adopting English as the official language of the United States should be a prerequisite for statehood. Before the dust from his shellacking had even settled Santorum sought to defend his pathetic showing by saying he lost “on principle.” Rick Perry, the one candidate with experience governing on the Mexican border, took a beating from fellow candidates for saying that people who would deprive the children of illegal immigrants of access to public education “don’t have a heart.” When Rick Perry takes flack for holding a “moderate” stance, the GOP has some soul-searching to do.
For instance, if the GOP truly wants to claim the mantle of liberty, both personal and economic, it must abandon its vicious anti-immigrant rhetoric. Republicans spend far too much time decrying an alleged invasion of illegal immigrants when they could be winning the policy debate advocating pro-growth immigration reform. Free markets mean free labor markets too.
Remarkably, Republicans seem content kowtowing to their traditional, and shrinking, constituencies. While white working class voters still command attention- especially in swing states- Republicans must grasp the fact that the white majority will soon vanish, never to return. Some point to Florida Senator Marco Rubio (left) to show that the GOP can recruit popular Latinos to its ranks. But even here there is a caveat: Rubio’s family is Cuban, a community that has long stood out from other American Latinos for voting Republican.
The GOP has much to offer Latinos, from an alliance on faith-based issues to a pro-democratic foreign policy that supports human rights in Latin America. But as long as Latinos continue to be marginalized by the party establishment, they will continue to cast their votes for Democrats. Republicans should want to be on the right side of history–their political survival depends on it.