First published in The Huffington Post, 03/17/2012
In a series of statements and interviews, the main Republican presidential candidates distanced themselves even further from Latino voters this week while they campaigned for the 23 delegates up for grabs in Sunday’s primary election in Puerto Rico.
Republican candidates have opposed comprehensive immigration reform, rejected the DREAM Act (federal legislation that proposes a path to legalization for undocumented students and soldiers), and supported a fence, or a double fence, or an electrified fence, for the U.S.-Mexico border.
They have pandered to the Latino community by drinking Cuban cafecito in Miami (Gingrich) or eating “helado de coco” in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico (Santorum).
This week, less than two weeks after a Fox poll revealed that Hispanics are supporting Barack Obama six to one over all GOP presidential hopefuls, additional nails were added to the coffin that contains George W. Bush’s dream of winning the majority of the Hispanic vote. ( Bush himself won about 40% of it in 2004)
Mitt Romney may have completed his inexplicable mission to lose Latino support this week, argued in Politico’s “How Mitt Romney lost Latinos.”
With the vote in Puerto Rico only days away, Romney couldn’t do much worse than his attack on Supreme Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor, an icon in the country. On Thursday, for the first time, he said he wouldn’t have voted for her confirmation, calling her “an activist, a liberal jurist, and I prefer people who follow the Constitution, and do not make law as a judge.”
Rick Santorum didn’t fare much better. During a two-day visit to Puerto Rico that included meeting Governor Luis Fortuño, a GOP favorite, he stumbled unto the emotional topics of statehood and independence by saying in an interview that speaking English should be “a condition for entering the Union.” Even though the island has two official languages, English and Spanish, most Puerto Ricans prefer Spanish.
“I think Santorum put his foot in his mouth, or ‘metió la pata’ as we say in Spanish,” said Professor Juan Flores, NYU Latino Studies expert, to NBC Latino.
Finally, in an interview on The Laura Ingraham Show radio program, Newt Gingrich agreed with his host who said that, “if Republicans are losing votes six to one in the Latino community, if that Fox poll that came out ten days ago is accurate, then the Republican Party has a big problem.”
“I think we have a huge problem, and I think people shouldn’t kid themselves about it,” Gingrich responded. But in the same interview, the candidate refrained from offering any change in his position against “amnesty”, preferring instead to say that:
1) “Many [Latinos] are Catholic and find Obama’s assault on the Catholic Church to be totally unacceptable.”
2) Hispanics should support his plan to get gasoline prices below $2.50 a gallon.
3) Hispanics don’t want benefits, but jobs.
4) There are 17 Hispanic co-chairs in his campaign in California.
Aand, finally, 5) That his daughter speaks fluent Spanish.
All this from the candidate who sincerely tried, much more than the other candidates, to endear himself to Latino Republicans.
Where will the candidates go from here? The GOP race may ultimately be decided in California, a state with 172 delegates that is 38% Latino.
If Gingrich drops out and Santorum can go at Romney one on one, it could be competitive all the way to California, in which case California would pretty much decide the nomination,” said John Ryder, a Republican national committeeman from Tennessee, speaking to The Washington Post.
How can the GOP candidates possibly attract Hispanic votes?
The assumption was always that, after securing the nomination, the winner would step back from their radical positions created to gain the votes of extreme right wingers and then be able to regain the more moderate independent voters needed to win the national election.
However, with the statements made this week, it may be too late to change course. The GOP may have already become toast to the Latino community. Or tostados.