Republicans and the Hispanic Vote

Rep. Lamar Smith gets it partially right when he touts the election of Hispanic Republican candidates and of non-Hispanic pro-border-enforcement Republicans with the help of a significant number of Hispanic voters. “Exit polls reported by CNN and updated this week reveal that a historically robust 38 percent of Hispanic voters cast ballots for House Republican candidates in 2010 — more than in 2006 (30 percent) and 2008 (29 percent).” He observes:

Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, one of the most trusted commentators on Spanish-language television, concluded that “the United States moved to the right, and Latino politicians did so too — among them, a new generation of Hispanic Republicans who support policies that are essentially opposed to the undocumented immigrants in this country.”

But we should add a couple of caveats. First, Smith notes that Gov. Jan Brewer got 28 percent of the vote, a good result, he suggests, since in 2006 the GOP candidate got 26 percent. Umm … I don’t think barely exceeding the vote totals for 2006, a wipe-out year for the Republicans, should be the goal for the GOP. (Moreover, the percentage of voters who are Hispanic has been increasing in each election, so Republicans will need to do better with each election if they are to retain that share of the general electorate.) And while Rick Perry got 38 percent of the Hispanic vote, he got 55 percent of the overall electorate, suggesting that a huge gap still remains in the GOP’s appeal to Hispanics.

Second, Smith ignores the real issues: tone, rhetoric, and position on legal immigration. Marco Rubio believes in border control, but his life story is built around the immigrant experience, and he eschews inflammatory language that has plagued Republicans like Tom Tancredo. As Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell pointed out to me a few years ago, if the Republicans want to continue to make progress among Hispanic voters, they need to object to the “illegal” part, not the “immigration” part, of the equation.

Smith is on solid ground with his conclusion:

On many of the most important issues of our day – jobs, education, support for small businesses and the economy – the Republican positions line up with Hispanic values. Republican approaches to better education, small businesses and job creation demonstrate that the GOP will put policy over politics when it comes to Hispanic outreach. The right way to attract Hispanic support is to emphasize our shared values.

Too often, Republicans assume that their positions are so intrinsically true that they need no explanation. Wrong. If they want to attract a growing portion of the electorate, they need to explain both that Republicans value Hispanics’ contributions and participation in American society and that school choice, low taxes, reasonable regulation, and other mainstays of the GOP agenda are the best avenue to upward mobility and progress for Hispanics, and for all Americans. Election of impressive candidates like Rubio, Gov. Susana Martinez, Gov. Brian Sandoval, and Reps. Bill Flores, Francisco Canseco, Jaime Herrera, Raul Labrador, and David Rivera is a good start but hardly sufficient.