First published in The Huffington Post, 05/20/2012
Believing that to win in November, Mitt Romney needs the support of a sizable amount of Latino voters (anything close to the 34% John McCain got in 2008 is a defeat; anything around the 41% who voted for George W. Bush in 2004 is a victory), Republicans continued to intensify their level of involvement with the Latino community this week. They seem encouraged by a simple rationale. Romney, as FoxNews said, «could beat Obama if he courts Hispanics.»
Let me add this for clarity: Romney could beat Obama if he courts Hispanics and if Hispanics are enchanted by his charms.
But there is a lot of work to do. A recent NBC/WSJ poll indicated that 69% of Latinos still prefer Obama to the 22% who favor Romney.
If Republicans really believe they must do well with Hispanics to win the presidency, they have good reason to be worried.
Still, they struggle to gain the hearts and votes of Latinos. In January, they created the office of Director of Hispanic Outreach and named activist Bettina Inclán to lead it. And last week, Inclan presented new GOP Hispanic outreach directors in six states.
Also as part of the effort, this week Arizona’s senator and former presidential candidate John McCain told Juan Williams that the issue of immigration stands between Latinos and Mitt Romney, and that, actually, Romney «has said that he is in favor of immigration reform. «Now,» added McCain, «like anything else, the devil is in the details.»
But McCain understands that even though topics like jobs and education are paramount for Latinos, the immigration issue is what differentiates them from non-Latino voters.
Thus, immigration is what defines the Hispanic electorate.
Additional involvement in Latino issues included a presentation by the junior senator from Florida, Republican Marco Rubio, to the media. Rubio outlined, one more time, his own version of the DREAM Act, a once-bipartisan-now-Democratic bill that would allow many undocumented students and soldiers to legalize their immigration status.
Not that it’s time to present the law in committee…or that there is any timetable for that. Rubio’s move is aimed to show Latinos that someone in the GOP is sympathetic to the plight of the immigrant. And to show that Republicans at least have the beginning of a legislative record on these issues. (After all, the only other piece of legislation Rubio has introduced was in July 11, when he presented Senate Resolution 236, designating September 2011 as «National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month.«)
So, this week Rubio continued to try to reap the fruits of a bill that does not even exist. No wonder Senate Majority leader Harry Reid wants Rubio to stop talking about the bill and start doing something about it.
And, there is a little additional problem: Mitt Romney is not supporting the bill. At least, according to Inclán, he has not decided yet. Actually, on his website, Mittromney.com, he criticizes Obama for deporting too few, not too many. «…instead of taking a strong stand on illegal immigration, he [Obama] has ordered immigration officials to enforce immigration laws «selectively,» leading to the dismissal of many deportation cases.»
Still, these outreach efforts by the GOP toward Latinos, part of their strategy to unseat Obama, couldn’t come at a more opportune moment. This week, the Census Bureau announced that for the first time, «racial and ethnic minorities make up more than half the children born in the U.S.»
And even if the rate of growth of the Hispanic population in the country slowed, as fewer immigrants illegally cross our borders, the threshold is important. Translation: The clock is ticking and you need to acknowledge this and join the trend. Or oppose it.
What to do, then? Some, such as Inclán last Tuesday, attacked Obama from the Left accusing him of stepping up deportations and not passing immigration reform. But Romney, as we saw, would have deported even more…although that view came prior to the exit of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, and before the etch-a-sketch debacle.
So, what is the GOP’s position on immigration?
Attacks like Inclan’s on Obama’s immigration record will undoubtedly leave Obama unfazed and unscathed. But the insistence of the GOP on finally developing talking points that are somehow palatable to Latinos may indicate that the influence of the far right in the GOP, so powerful during the early stages of the primaries, has continued to fade, and with it, the most extreme voices in the party seemed headed back to, well, where they used to live before: the fringes. (Remember Herman Cain’s electrified fence «joke» as a way to stop «illegals?»)
It appears probable then that, without the need to energize the troops for the primaries, and with the urgent need to reach independent voters, the GOP tone on immigration and Latinos will turn civil and dialogue will resume.
Wait a minute.
Enter the Supreme Court…which, by late June is set to rule on the legality of SB 1070, Arizona’s highly controversial 2010 anti-illegal immigration law.
From reading the transcript of the recent hearings on the constitutionality of SB1070, it seems the Supreme Court seems bound to uphold it. This is also what the experts think. Even McCain predicts it: «I think it’s pretty clear from the argument that the Supreme Court members made, that a lot of that, that law may be upheld…» he said to Williams.
But a decision to uphold the statute could energize Latinos to register and vote for Obama. Hispanics could forget his unfulfilled promises of immigration reform and his deportation record.
Which would be an unintended consequence of the Supreme Court decision.
And Obama? This week, the president was quietly amassing his war chest at a meeting with wealthy LGBT and Latino donors who paid at least $5,000 each to be there.
Maybe he let Republicans take the lead in searching for ways to attract the Latino vote.
Only they still don’t have an official position on what McCain called «one of the key issues of the 2012 Presidential campaign.»