Republicans and The Latino Outreach Failure

If last week’s gaffes are any barometer of the Republicans’ Latino outreach campaign, the political party can expect even fewer votes from that demographic in the next presidential election.

After President Obama handily defeated Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the 2012 election, the losing party ran back to the drawing board. Several prominent members realized a strategy shift was necessary to broaden the voter base, and Republicans decided to begin a Latino outreach initiative. Obama captured 71 percent of the Latino vote, a demographic that represents America’s largest and fastest growing minority.”When you do the math, it’s a very narrow path to victory in a presidential year without significant improvement among Hispanics,” Republican pollster Glen Bolger said.

The party set forth a noble goal, but its outreach program has been an unmitigated disaster. Last week provided two salient examples of why the Hispanic community generally continues to resent the Republican party.

Thursday, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) described the workers his father employed to pick tomatoes as “wetb****,” a slur that has no place in society. By using the pejorative, Young demeaned the very group his party is trying to invite in. He not only alienated them but also conveyed an unwarranted view of superiority.

Young first tried to explain the situation, “I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays and I meant no disrespect.” Inexcusable. When my mother’s side of the family worked the fields after coming to America in 1962, the w-word was a slur meant to dehumanize and degrade Mexican immigrants. Its harsh connotation has not changed, and any time it has ever been used has been in a disrespectful manner.

After some pressure, Young issued a full apology. Republican leaders quickly denounced the racially charged and insensitive comments. House Speaker Boehner characterized Young’s word choice as “offensive and beneath the dignity of the office he holds.” Senator John Cornyn said the language would “do nothing to elevate our party.”

Despite the quick retraction, the damage was done. Latinos saw this as yet another instance of overt racism. It conjured up memories of the backward thinking that led to the inequalities of the past such as my Mexican-American grandfather on my father’s side having to attend a segregated school in New Mexico.

Hispanics are so repelled by the outlandish racism that they close their ears and ignore any attempts by the Republican party to disseminate its ideology. Because the “discourse” on race and humanity is perverse, why should Hispanics believe that the policies are not inherently oppressive?

The mishaps did not end there. On Easter Sunday, Google incorporated a drawing of Cesar Chavez on its home page logo to mark the late civil rights leader’s birthday. The move sparked a sizable amount of outrage amongst members of the Republican Party, who were disturbed that the search giant did not celebrate Easter.

Dana Perino, a former press secretary for George W. Bush wondered if the Chavez doodle was an April Fools prank. Florida-based Republican strategist Rick Wilson lamented Google celebrating Easter with Cesar Chavez and announced he was switching to rival search engine Bing, which placed Easter eggs on its home page.

Google has not portrayed Easter in its logo since 2000, but this is the first time criticism has been targeted at the company for not depicting the holiday. It appears petty, misguided, and racially motivated that Perino and Wilson are upset because colored eggs or a bunny–two items with very loose connections to the resurrection of Jesus Christ–were missing from the drawing.

Instead, the company chose to honor a devout Catholic who fought tirelessly to improve the working conditions for one of the world’s most powerless groups. His inclusion on the home page does not infringe in any way upon the celebration of Easter. It observes the spirit of Jesus Christ and highlights a person who tried to follow His example. Marc Grossman, spokesman for the Chavez family, responded to the criticism, “We understand the concern that some people have, but for many there is no contradiction. Cesar lived the gospel according to Jesus Christ: he helped the poor and outcast.”

The door is open for Republicans to encroach on the dominant grasp Democrats hold over the Latino demographic. There is common ground between Republicans and Hispanics on a wide variety of economic issues. Furthermore, President Obama failed to deliver the immigration reform he promised would be completed by the end of his first term during interviews in 2008 with Univision.

However, Republicans will never truly gain the trust of Latinos if they continue to disparage and diminish the traditions and accomplishments of the Hispanic community. At the end of the day, Latinos would much rather vote for a candidate who takes them for granted and might not fulfill his promises than one whose supporters spew hateful, ignorant rhetoric. Can you blame them?

10 thoughts on “Republicans and The Latino Outreach Failure

  1. I remember watching Rep. Young’s comment exlpode on social media and saw pundits talking about it on MSNBC and CNN for most of a morning. It seemed incredible how long it took for him to actually apologize (I’m not counting that first attempt). It’s easy enough to write him off as a rogue from Alaska, but I think the troubling issue here is how the Republicans handled it. Though party leadership instantly denounced the comments it took them quite some time to force Young in front of the press for an official apology. I continue to wonder how much control Boehner and co. have over Republicans in congress…

  2. Pingback: Going Roque | Tokenism 101

  3. The reconstruction of the Republican Party is inevitable. As you correctly pointed out, the GOP has suffered from painful defeats at the polls. Their failure to reach out to a changing American demographic has resulted in some of the least cohesive party politics of the last 50 years.

    On the importance of connecting with Latinos, the Republicans have no demographic more critical to their future electoral success. Likewise, incendiary, racist comments like the one you alluded to by Representative Don Young have no place in politics. However, I would caution you against presuming that Rep. Young’s views are indicative of those of the vast majority of the GOP. With time, the party has evolved and become far more accepting of minority groups than at any time in its history. Young Republicans in particular have made the party more liberal on key social issues like immigration and gay marriage. The party must rebuke politicians like Representative Young, but the public must also be cautious to recognize that one racial slur cannot possibly represent the views of an entire movement.

  4. There are many idiots like Young in govenment. We find them on both sides of the political divide. Granted, when we are talking about racist slurs too often they are found on the Republican side of the chambers.

    As Jared pointed out above it is unfortunate that what is a minority of a political movement gain such an inordinate amount of coverage for their remarks when compared to more moderate sentiments from party contemporaries.

    It is very true that Hispanics and Republicans do have a lot in common. It seems counter intuitive that the two groups should be so estranged. They share many similar views on business ownership and home ownership. The fastest growing demographic of home owners in California is Hispanic owners; likewise with new business start ups. Hispanic voters have shown more conservative views on social issues such as marriage equality and abortion rights than does the average Democratic voter. Yet we still see Hispanic voters breaking in favor of Democratic candidates in huge numbers. My interpretation (for what it’s worth); the very emotionally charged single issue of immigration reform. The Republican party has demonstrated a very slow willingness to adapt its policy regarding illegal immigration which affects so may within the Hispanic population. Where Hispanic voters could be within the influence of Republican candidates they are turned off by the issue of immigration reform.

    The party hierarchy would be well placed to run more moderate candidates in primaries against Young and his outdated contemporaries if they wish to truly influence the Hispanic voter bloc.

  5. I read an article a while back about the fight between the GOP and the Democratic party for the Latino vote (I tried finding it again but I couldn’t).The article basically said it was time for Latinos to stop letting Democrats take them for granted and start using their voting power to achieve the change they really wanted. You mentioned that the Obama administration has failed to deliver the immigration reform promised in the campaign. This failure may stem from a variety or reasons but I believe no party should ever feel to comfortable with the vote of any demographic. If losing the Latino vote were more of a concern for the Democratic party they may make a stronger effort towards immigration reform. Of course, if a person feels that the opposing party is unwelcoming and prejudiced against them it makes it much harder to consider whatever change they offer. My main point is both sides should be doing more and the Latino vote if channeled has the power to make them do it.

    Also, the fight for immigration reform reminded me of something Chris Rock once said: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_L7qoP17-w

    • There were about three or four articles that come to mind, all of which were written by Ruben Navarrette Jr. for CNN. It might be this one: http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/05/opinion/navarrette-latino-voters. He wrote a series of good articles from November-February on how the Latino vote is being taken for granted and how the demographic should demand more. You also make a valid point about immigration. It may stem from a variety of reasons, but I don’t know that many voters are necessarily concerned about why. He promised it in a prominent interview on Univision, and it seemed to take a back burner during the first term. I agree with you that it would be ideal if both sides had to fight for the vote, but the reality is that episodes like the two I mention tend to gain high publicity and push Latinos away.

  6. Reading this story about the old republican calling Mexicans wetbacks reminds me of my grandpa. He’s from a very rural part of Washington and grew up on a farm. When I was about 12 I played football and one weekend he came down to Southern California to visit us. He drove me to my practice, watched me play and then on the drive home told me to always make sure I treat the colored kids the same as all the other kids. At the time this seemed like an odd thing to say, but I remembered it as I grew up and learned more about American Civil Rights. It’s not that he’s trying to be offensive by calling blacks “colored people” or calling Asians “Orientals” (which he also does frequently), but that’s just what he knows these racial groups as. He’s sort of like a harmless, non-racist version of Clint Eastwood’s character in the movie ‘Gran Torino.’ So again, it absolutely wasn’t intended to be a racial slur when Rep. Young said it, but just a further perpetuation of the Republican party as old, rich, white men.

    • I think the problem with this is not the idea of reaching out to Latinos or Wallace West’s grandfather telling him to treat the colored children the same, its that at the end of the day this all still perpetuates the idea of “us” versus “them.” What we see with the word “wet*****” and the lack of respect for Mexican holidays, is people not appreciating the differences between different groups and cultures and then creating a further separation. The Republican Party creating this outreach program and then acting so contrary makes their intentions seems inauthentic. The goal is to be reach out to the Latinos and create an equal playing field to where their differences are not a hindrance on the opportunities available to him. I agree with you that their efforts can and should be improved from the Republican Party. That being said, so can those of the other party.

  7. It is true that the Republican party has a huge Latino outreach deficit. But it is not just Latinos. Republicans have a minority outreach deficit in general. If you look at the exist poll in the last election, every group considered to be a minority group voted for Democrats overwhelmingly. Latinos, Blacks, Asians, Women, Gays, etc., all for voted overwhelmingly for the Democratic. It is critical for survival of the Republican party to reach out to the Latino population to vote for them, but as they embark on that journey, they also reach out to the other groups as well–one step at a time. And in doing so, they must show complete sincerity, and not just to win votes.

  8. This is what happens when you have a party that lack real diversity. When you don’t hear alternative perspectives you don’t realize how out of touch with the rest of the country you really are. I always thought it was offensive that the Republican Party said “let’s go get Latinos” not for the purposes of bettering people’s lives or dealing with their concerns, but for the purpose of winning elections. They’d probably get that if their party had more minorities

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