In December 2012, after Mitt Romney’s loss to President Obama, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus commissioned an autopsy report (known as the Growth and Opportunity Project) of the 2012 election cycle. Republicans wanted to know what had gone awry and how they could start winning presidential elections in the future.
The report was a road map to victory. It treated messaging and demographic partners among other things. But one of the biggest takeaways was that the Republican Party had deficient support from the Hispanic community and that outreach needed major improvement. It said that the GOP needed to enhance its messaging, that a welcoming tone was going to be crucial to repair the relationship with people we had needlessly offended. Specifically, it said Republicans “must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only.”
Three years after the report was commissioned, I wrote a column urging South Carolinians to vote for someone capable of taking 40% of the Latino vote, the amount necessary for us to win. I warned that by 2050, nearly a third of the American electorate will be Hispanic and that we had to save our sinking ship this cycle. Unfortunately, a plurality of voters in this state doubled down on the failed strategies of yesteryear, nominating the most unsettling candidate to the Hispanic community and thereby ensuring defeat.
Donald Trump, whose maiden speech contained the famous line, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best… They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume are good people," boasts a 75-80% unfavorable rating among Hispanics with only 21% saying they would vote for him. That’s substantially less than the 27% that Mitt Romney received in 2012, and we know how that turned out. Trump rejects all of the recommendations in the autopsy report, and the consequences are obvious.
The data is self-evident, but perhaps most striking is that Trump seems to subconsciously acknowledge that he has no appeal to Hispanics. Earlier this month, Trump declared that the judge presiding over the Trump University fraud case, Gonzalo Curiel, is incapable of being impartial because he is of Mexican heritage. The reason? Because “I’m building a wall” and therefore he has “an inherent conflict of interest.” While making what has been disavowed as a racist statement by GOP leaders who are also curiously endorsing him, Trump admits that Latinos will not have a favorable view of him because of his rhetoric. If not outright conceding the point, he at least does not want to put his money on it.
Long before that, Trump rebuked Jeb Bush for speaking in Spanish to Latino media outlets, calling on him to instead use English. Here again, Trump showcases his total lack of consideration for the Hispanic community. Indeed, he seems to believe that if a voter cannot speak English, or perhaps if they primarily use Spanish media, then we really shouldn’t even bother. He tacitly admits that his campaign has nothing to offer them, and therefore outreach is futile. One thing’s for sure, the Democrats will be hyperactive in the Spanish media markets, ground that Trump has already surrendered.
But Trump claims to be confident that he will win the Hispanic vote. He's begun his version of outreach by tweeting a picture of him eating a taco bowl with the caption “I love Hispanics!" Wonderful. However, when asked how he'll win the Latino vote he says, "I'll win the Latino vote because I'll create jobs." Pretty simple. Unfortunately for him, the autopsy report studied that theory and found after speaking with over 2,000 Hispanics that “If Hispanic Americans hear [perceive] that the GOP doesn’t want them in the U.S., they won’t pay attention to our next sentence. It doesn’t matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think that we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies… our Party’s position on immigration has become a litmus test, measuring whether we are meeting them with a welcome mat or a closed door.”
Trump isn’t the only one who has abandoned this report. Republican leadership has effectively discarded it by endorsing him, ignoring the lessons Romney taught us through failure. Now, they’re urging us to support him. They’re trying to sell us tickets to board the Titanic. But I'm not buying it. I’ve seen the movie. Perhaps in 2020 we will finally learn our lesson.