Mitt Romney’s remarks to donors that Obama won reelection because of “gifts” he promised to influential voting blocs is getting some play in recent days. As the saying goes in conservative circles, you cannot out-pander a Democrat. Democrats can always give more (unless it comes from their own pockets).
Running a campaign as Santa-in-Chief has its advantages, but Romney shouldn’t be so quick to chalk up November’s loss to “gifts.” His response underscores the degree whereto his campaign had really missed the mark.
Obama’s gift of deferred action didn’t woo the Hispanic vote as Romney contends. Univision raked Obama over the coals for failing to reform immigration as he promised. Once you bounce that check, other checks become questionable. Hispanic voters let Obama off the hook on November 6 because they couldn't stomach the alternative.
Romney was so set on proving his Republican purism, he spat upon any relations the GOP still had with Hispanic voters. During the primary debates, he excoriated Texas Governor Rick Perry for supporting instate tuition for undocumented immigrants, a policy Romney described as a magnet for illegal immigration.
But Romney didn’t stop there. He promoted a self-deportation policy of making life so unappealing for undocumented immigrants that they would voluntarily choose to return to a way of life they had already risked life and limb to escape. That’s not quite the message of prosperity we can all get behind.
Making Obama’s reelection about gifts leaves one question unanswered: if Democrats are better at promising gifts and gifts win elections, then shouldn't Democrats win every election? Conservatives don’t believe in their heart of hearts that election victories are won by gifting, but by brokering a message of prosperity. The conservative message is timeless, but if the messenger can’t learn to get along . . .
When those on the right talk about catching illegals as “bagging and tagging,” or refer to those that come into the country illegally as an “illegal,” it presents an outreach problem. How would you like to be called an illegal because you were ticketed for speeding in a school zone? It was illegal, right? So, are you an illegal?
Regardless where you stand on the political correctness of terms, this terminology doesn’t jive with a good portion of the Hispanic community. Even those Hispanics not directly affected by illegal immigration (e.g., Cuban-Americans or Puerto Ricans), loathe the way Republicans have broached the topic of immigration. Those paying attention to Florida would do well to note that 78% of Cuban-American voters supported George W. Bush in 2004 while just 47% voted for Romney. Losing 31% of Cuban-American voters in a swing state that carries twenty-nine electoral votes is no small problem for the GOP.
Wooing the Latino vote isn’t so much about gift promising as it is about building good relationships. Anyone skilled at relationships will say that exploring shared interests is a good starting point. No doubt, conservatives have much in common with the Hispanic community. Reagan famously once said that Latinos were Republicans, they just didn’t know it yet. The idea that Hispanics are a lost tribe that needs a GPS to find its way back home is not far from the truth. Unfortunately, conditions have become so unappealing for independent Latinos that they are self-deporting to the Democratic Party.