The GOP and Hispanics

ruben navarrette jr online

ruben navarrette jr online Admission to the first-ever Spanish-language Republican presidential debate: Free.
The idea of Tom Tancredo, the only no-show and a fear-monger who constantly plays to the nativist mob, having the moxie to accuse fellow Republicans of “pandering”: Priceless.
Tancredo claims that he boycotted the debate, which was sponsored by the Spanish-language television network Univision, so he could emphasize the need for English as a common language.


That’s loco. Tancredo’s absence was an act of self-preservation. After years of exploiting the public’s anxiety over the growth in the Hispanic population, Tancredo was probably none too eager to subject himself to harsh questioning in front of a largely Hispanic audience.
It’s no wonder that even conservatives such as syndicated radio host Michael Medved refer to the Colorado congressman as “Tan-crazy.”


At least give Tancredo credit for clearing the air. The immigration debate can be foggy, and demagogues like him provide a valuable public service by making it obvious that – for many Americans – the problem isn’t words such as “legal” or “illegal” but the changing culture, shifting demographics and the growing Hispanic presence in the United States.
The problem for Republicans began when Hispanics figured out that it wasn’t just illegal immigrants who were on the hot plate.



You can be a third-generation Cuban-American living in Miami whose family came to this country legally, built businesses and voted Republican. But because you converse in Spanish at family gatherings, you still have to put up with the insult of members of Congress questioning your loyalty by declaring English the national language, or a presidential candidate such as Tancredo calling your city a “Third World country.”


Or you can be a fourth-generation Mexican-American living in Tucson whose family never crossed a border, worked hard, sent children off to the military and voted Democratic. But because you have relatives who live in Mexico and your culture is Mexican, you put up with the racism that is built into the immigration debate and the suspicion that you arrived here yesterday.
It is all part of what one of the debate moderators called the wave of “anti-Hispanic sentiment” sweeping the country.


That sentiment needs to be countered. And, in a country with 44 million Hispanics – where many either speak Spanish or live in households where Spanish is spoken – events like this are a sign of respect. And given that census figures say one in four Americans will be Hispanic by 2050, they could also be a matter of survival for the political parties. The only people who refuse to accept that, and resent overtures such as Spanish-language debates, are those who fret that they’re losing their spot in the pecking order.



Could be. While the total number of Hispanics voting in next year’s presidential election is expected to be just under 9 million, or about 9 percent of the electorate, those votes are concentrated in battleground states whose primaries come early in the process, and will thus likely have the greatest impact.


Hispanics would have even more impact if they got back to the tradition of being swing voters. Yet, for 2008, Hispanics seem to be in the hip pocket of Democrats.



A recent survey by the Pew Hispanic Center survey found that Democrats enjoy a more than 2-1 margin of support among Hispanic voters. Fifty-seven percent of Hispanics registered to vote said they favored Democrats, while 23 percent said they were backing Republicans.


The GOP has to do a better job of appealing to Hispanics, and events such as the Univision debate can only help. Hispanic voters needed to hear Mitt Romney acknowledge that Hispanics contribute much to society as “family-oriented and people of faith” who serve in the military and start businesses.



They needed to hear John McCain insist that “some of the rhetoric that many Hispanics hear about illegal immigration makes some of them believe that we are not in favor of nor seek the support of Hispanic citizens in this country.” They needed to hear Mike Huckabee decry a circumstance where “a person who is here legally, but speaks with an accent, is racially profiled by the public.” And they needed to hear Rudy Giuliani credit Hispanic-Americans for possessing the “basic values that make us better: values of family, values of hard work, getting a good job, education as the way to success.”


Some people might call those kinds of statements pandering. Others have a different term for it: the truth.

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