After each presidential election, the losing party is often questioned by outside interests whether it should repackage or tailor its ideas to reflect mainstream America (whatever that means). To be sure, the election process is complex, yet campaigns have become exceedingly proficient at analyzing data, targeting demographic groups, and marketing poll-tested messages.
In this election, I don’t think anyone can say that Mitt Romney ran a proficient campaign. Rumors abound (and I believe them) that Romney’s advisory circle was microcosmic, micromanaged, and even eccentric. The fact that Romney didn’t have a concession speech ready for delivery yesterday speaks volumes about his campaign’s inability to function on all cylinders. In other words, too few people, too many hats.
That said, in the next few weeks, the country will hear about the critical role Latino voters played in President Obama’s reelection. In the 2004 presidential election, President George W. Bush received 40-44% of Latinos voters (depending on who conducted the poll). In 2008, John McCain received only 31% of the Latino vote. Now, Fox News is reporting that Mitt Romney received only 27% of the Latino vote. Clearly, the voter trend is not moving in the right direction for Republicans.
In 2009, I wrote an article entitled Fighting for the soul of the Hispanic community. It was my first essay on Hispanic issues, but some points are worth restating. In the piece, I said,
“The GOP is failing the Hispanic community in a number of politically important ways. They have refused to reach out to Hispanics at a grassroots level, which has fostered a more recent and noticeable decline in GOP support . . . If Republicans expect to capture more of the Hispanic vote in future elections, they need to take these problems seriously and resolve them before Hispanics make the left [Democratic Party] a permanent home.”
I argued that Republicans had to increase Latino outreach to church communities, reinforcing common values and interests. Things have changed since 2009. Republicans have since dug in their heels on immigration (e.g., Arizona immigration law, blocking multiple versions of Dream Act legislation). Palatable policy isn’t the only problem. GOP outreach to Hispanics was nominal. In my essay, I wrote
“More important, politicians ought not to wait for election season to get familiar with Hispanic groups. Hispanics should be treated like part of the family. This means that when Hispanic non-profits or other community organizations invite politicians to events that are mutually beneficial, Democrats shouldn’t be the only ones showing up. This is one of the more disturbing problems in GOP leadership today.”
Republican outreach to Latinos since 2009 has been absent. More specifically, if Romney’s outreach to Latinos in Wisconsin was at all a reflection of his efforts to woo Hispanics across the country, it shouldn't be a surprise he attracted only 27% of the Hispanic vote.
Additionally, Senator Marco Rubio gave Romney an opportunity to soften his stance on the Dream Act, but he thought they could get 38% of the Latino vote by just talking about an Obama economy. Clearly, they were wrong.
The trend of Latino voters shifting to the Democratic Party should be a very disturbing image for the GOP. On Tuesday, 10% of the nation’s electoral vote was Latino. In 2008, it was 9%. In 2004, it was 8%. As the Hispanic community continues to grow, this percentage will keep climbing. The GOP cannot continue ignoring the Hispanic electorate. If Florida, Colorado, Nevada, and Pennsylvania (battleground states where Latino votes were pivotal) had gone to Romney, he wouldn’t have needed Ohio to reach 270 electoral votes. Latino support for Obama in Pennsylvania was at an astounding 82%. In Colorado, Obama clinched 87% of the Latino vote. If you’re a Republican, let these numbers sink in.
In 2009, in Fighting for the soul of the Hispanic community, I called on the GOP to change their strategy. In 2010, in GOP bites the hand that feeds, I wrote,
“It is my fear that by the time the GOP finally understands that short-term gains of inciting their base are not worth the long-term setbacks of making the Hispanic community a permanent foe, it might be too late.”
In May, 2012, I renewed my concern in Republican Party needs a wakeup call saying,
“I just hope it doesn’t take losing a Presidential election to do it [wake up the GOP]. Wisconsin Republicans should also take note and begin courting Latino voters more than they do [already].”
To be sure, election cycles are complex. The recipe for electoral success in 1984 may not be the same recipe for success in 2012. The GOP doesn’t need to reinvent itself or become more moderate to win elections. I would argue quite the contrary. Republicans need to be more conservative. However, being more conservative doesn’t mean doing the bidding of the anti-immigrant fringe element of the party.
Although past polls indicate that Latinos are more concerned about the economy, health care, and education than immigration, it would be a mistake to assume that immigration is not the key to unlocking Hispanic support. Like Senator Rubio said, immigration is a gateway issue. Harsh immigration rhetoric has a funny way of turning other issues into noise. Yes, the economy is the most important issue to the Hispanic community; but without trust, why would Latinos accept the GOP approach to economics over the Democratic approach? Similar to any relationship, trust is earned. If you gain their trust, the noise will go away.