Bettina Inclan, Hispanic Outreach Director, May Have Toughest Job In GOP Circus
Bettina Inclan may have the toughest job in the Republican circus.
She's the Republican National Committee's new director of Hispanic outreach.
Right now, that's like being the guy with the shovel who follows along behind the elephants, only worse. She has to clean up whatever lands on the campaign trail and repackage it into something pretty. And she has to make sure that any stink left by Republican candidates doesn't stick to the party.
Inclan, of course, offers a more upbeat description. "My job with the RNC is more political ground game, making sure the general message of the Republican Party, about economic prosperity, about lower taxes, about what we believe is the American dream," gets out to Hispanics, she told The Huffington Post.
Inclan has held difficult jobs before. She served as executive director of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly as Latino support for the party began its current slide from its 2004 high. She was press secretary for Steven Poizner during his unsuccessful run for California governor. And she worked as deputy director of communications for the victorious campaign of Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who attracted strong Latino support despite the fact that he advocated a strict Arizona-style immigration law for the Sunshine State.
The RNC hired Inclan last month after the party's presidential candidates started hurling immigration attacks during debates and campaign stops, and the party heard the stampede of alienated Latinos rushing for the door. In announcing her appointment, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus acknowledged how crucial Hispanics are to the party's future.
"I'm really proud of the fact that we're going to announce the expansion of the RNC's Hispanic Outreach Effort today," he said. "We all know it's the fastest growing demographic in America, and Latinos play a vital role in all of our communities. The Republican Party believes that it's crucial to involve Latinos at every level because diverse voices will lead to a stronger and obviously more vibrant party."
Inclan directs a multipronged battle strategy. She attended the Hispanic Leadership Network conference last month and has been doing interviews on television and radio in English and Spanish, holding call-in press conferences with reporters across the country, and promoting the "Obama failed" theme in her own tweets and those of the newly launched @RNCLatinos. The party put out a YouTube video in Spanish titled "Unkept Promises: Nevada Edition" and has been actively posting updates on its new tumblr blog aimed at Hispanics.
Its Latino-directed web page, however, is grossly outdated. The newest posting is a video of Inclan talking about the yet-to-come Florida primary. And Inclan has been notably silent on her own blog since announcing her appointment in mid-January.
LATINOS SLIPPING AWAY
Inclan's is a brand-new position at the GOP, created nearly two years after former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush founded the conservative Hispanic Leadership Network out of concern that the party was letting Latinos slip away.
He had reason to worry. After the presidential election of 2004 set an all-time record, when his brother George W. Bush captured 40 percent of the Latino vote (some say 44 percent), support for the GOP dropped to a mere 31 percent for Sen. John McCain in 2008.
It may be tough to do better any time soon. A recent Pew Hispanic Research Center survey found that 67 percent of Hispanic registered voters identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party; just 20 percent said the same about the Republican Party.
The Feb. 4 Nevada caucus may have provided another indicator of the GOP's woes. Participation by Latinos declined from 8 percent of Republican voters in 2008 to 5 percent this past Saturday.
"We know that Nevada has the fastest-growing Latino electorate of any state," said Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions. "And despite the fact that Latinos are getting bigger and bigger in Nevada, they are becoming a smaller and smaller part of the Republican Party."
The challenge for Republicans is that Hispanics are listening and bristling at what they hear -- in particular, the Republican candidates' harsh or contradictory stances on immigration.
Rick Santorum and Ron Paul have rejected any path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the country. Newt Gingrich called for a more humane approach that would offer legal status to longtime residents, but also praised South Carolina's crackdown on undocumented immigration.
Mitt Romney vowed to veto the DREAM Act, until he reached Florida in the last week of January. Then he said he would support granting citizenship to undocumented immigrants' children who serve in the military.
But Adam Luna, political director of America's Voice, argued in a HuffPost blog that Romney's apparent change of heart came too late. Luna wrote, "Mitt Romney has already seared his image as an anti-immigrant candidate into the minds of Latino voters. Romney's vow to veto the DREAM Act and his continued calls for self-deportation of undocumented immigrants are reverberating in the Latino community -- and will continue through November."
Romney also rankled powerful Latino and immigration reform groups across the country by embracing an endorsement from Kris Kobach, architect of the Arizona and Alabama crackdown laws. And after fighting back against accusations that he's "anti-immigrant," Romney this week named former California Gov. Pete Wilson, whose legacy is practically synonymous with anti-immigrant sentiment, as his honorary campaign chair in the Golden State.
In 1994, Wilson advocated for California's Proposition 187, which would have cut off public services for undocumented immigrants, including barring their children from public schools. The courts struck down the law. Latino voters did the same to Wilson in the very next election.
"I just don't understand the strategy of repeating the mistakes of Proposition 187 and Pete Wilson," Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, told the San Francisco Chronicle. He said the GOP is actually "pushing Latinos away."
JOBS, JOBS, JOBS
GOP strategists and spokespeople across the country have sought to counter the inflammatory immigration issue by focusing on jobs.
"The economy and jobs is the number one issue in poll after poll after poll," Jennifer Korn, who ran George W. Bush's successful Hispanic outreach in 2004, told HuffPost. "So when you're going into the voting booth, I think the majority of people will be voting with their pocketbook because they want to see this end."
Inclan, too, has repeatedly attempted to steer the conversation away from immigration.
"Immigration has to be addressed," she told HuffPost in late January. "But if we're talking about what's going to move people at the polls, I think it's really going to be the economy."
There's some powerful basis for their thinking. In a Pew Hispanic Research Center survey released at the end of December, 50 percent of Latinos listed jobs as their number one concern, followed closely by education and health care.
But the issue may not have enough pull to bring Hispanics into the Republican fold. Recent economic data show an improved employment outlook in general, with Latinos accounting for an overwhelming proportion of the gains. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 60 percent of the 2.3 million jobs added in 2011 went to Hispanics.
Which means the anti-immigration rhetoric could come back to haunt the eventual Republican nominee, said Angelo Falcon, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy.
"The big question is going to be how much of this stuff is going to stick to that person," Falcon said. "Because if it continues the way it's going now, it's definitely going to be a negative in terms of the Latino vote."
If not the most memorable moment of the run-up to the Florida GOP primary, the most comical one had to be Mitt Romney's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/24/self-deportation-romney_n_1228296.html" target="_hplink">oxymoronic addition</a> to the English language: self-deportation. At a Florida debate and in response to a question regarding if whether to enforce his position on illegal immigration, he would support mass deportations, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/24/mitt-romney-florida-gop-debate-self-deportation_n_1227129.html" target="_hplink">Romney answered</a> "Well, the answer is self-deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can't find work here because they don't have legal documentation to allow them to work here." Romney's use of the term 'self-deportation' and his genuine belief in it as a viable means to deal with the 13 million undocumented immigrants who would not be allowed to remain in the U.S., led to substantial social media outcry, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/25/gingrich-romney-self-deportation-plan_n_1230987.html" target="_hplink">an attack by his primary opponent, Newt Gingrich</a> (to be expected), and a measure of agreement from fellow candidate Rick Santorum. Amazing.
Newt Gingrich At Café Versailles
Newt Gingrich didn't waste any time in 2012. In early January, he visited Little Havana's Café Versailles restaurant, a traditional stop for politicians looking to rally support among Miami's Cuban-American population. Gingrich drank Cuban coffee and conversed with the restaurant staff, who by now must be used to politicians stopping by to score points among Latino voters. Strangely enough, they <a href="http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2012/01/in-miami-caffeinated-newt-gingrich-talks-learning-english-cuba-and-chats-with-marco-rubios-dentist-a.html" target="_hplink">applauded once he was finished with his coffee</a>. GIngrich didn't miss a beat and told his audience how President of the U.S. his goal will be "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/14/gingrich-republican-candidates-florida_n_1205463.html" target="_hplink">to create a Cuban Spring that is even more exciting than the Arab Spring.</a>" He also talked about this stance on immigration, which he qualifies as <a href="http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2012/01/in-miami-caffeinated-newt-gingrich-talks-learning-english-cuba-and-chats-with-marco-rubios-dentist-a.html" target="_hplink">more "humane" than the positions of his GOP primary opponents</a>. Nothing like spicy politicking to go with your <em>café con leche</em>.
The 'Three Amigos' Endorse Mitt Romney
An crucial moment in the Florida race was the endorsement of Mitt Romney by Florida's self-proclaimed <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/11/29/us-usa-politics-romney-idUSTRE7AS1XZ20111129" target="_hplink">"three amigos," </a>Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Lincoln Diaz-Balart. The Miami Herald calls this the <a href="http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/11/28/2522516/romney-picks-up-key-south-florida.html" target="_hplink">"ultimate Cuban-American endorsement trifecta</a>." But this too led to controversy as these three Cuban-American politicians who now support Romney's candidacy -- and its conservative approach to immigration reform and threatened DREAM act veto -- have track records as <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/26/mitt-romney-florida-latino-republicans_n_1233613.html?ref=latino-politics" target="_hplink">advocates for comprehensive immigration reform and passing the DREAM Act</a>. "Those three in particular have had a history of supporting measures like the DREAM Act ... but everyone wants stability in the Republican party and they likely think Romney is the most likely to provide that," said Kristian Ramos, a policy director at the NDN & New Policy Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/26/mitt-romney-florida-latino-republicans_n_1233613.html?ref=latino-politics" target="_hplink">to The Huffington Post</a>. In the 2008 primary the trio endorsed Sen. John McCain -- over Romney -- due in part to his own advocacy for immigration reform.
NextGen Latino GOPers
A new generation of Latino leaders is emerging in Florida politics. Cuban-American senator, Marco Rubio, is undoubtedly the most well-known figure in this new emerging political group. "Obviously, probably Marco Rubio is on the top of the list in terms of young Hispanics leading the effort in the state," conservative activist Jeb Bush Jr., the son of Florida's former governor and nephew of former President George W. Bush, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/27/florida-primary-2012-latinos-gop_n_1236450.html?ref=latino-voices" target="_hplink">told The Huffington Post.</a> Rubio's name comes up in every list of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/26/marco-rubio-vp-gop-candidates-florida-primary_n_1233480.html" target="_hplink">possible vice presidential candidates</a>. Thus far, however, he has <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/23/marco-rubio-the-big-get-i_n_1224646.html" target="_hplink">remained neutral</a> in the primary race. Other Latinos who are gaining influence in Florida's Republican and conservative circles include <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/27/florida-primary-2012-latinos-gop_n_1236450.html?ref=latino-voices" target="_hplink">Rep. David Rivera, who's backing cNewt Gingrich, Florida House Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera and state Rep. Erik Fresen.</a>
Latino Vote Takes Center Stage At CNN's GOP Debate
Last Thursday's GOP debate confirmed that the Latino vote is a dominant factor in the Florida primary. From the earliest moments of the debate, issues such as immigration reform, the DREAM Act, relations with Cuba, Puerto Rico's status, Latinos who could serve in a Republican Cabinet, and more were catnip to the candidates who were each seeking to wow the audience. Gingrich stood strong in his attack that Romney is the most "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/26/mitt-romney-newt-gingrich-immigration-florida-debate_n_1235344.html?ref=latino-voices&ir=Latino Voices" target="_hplink">anti-immigrant</a>" candidate in the GOP race. Romney defended himself by calling the comments "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/26/mitt-romney-newt-gingrich-immigration-florida-debate_n_1235344.html?ref=latino-voices&ir=Latino Voices" target="_hplink">inflammatory and inappropriate</a>." Romney then went on to criticize a Gingrich TV ad as an example of "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/26/mitt-romney-newt-gingrich-immigration-florida-debate_n_1235344.html?ref=latino-voices&ir=Latino Voices" target="_hplink">over the top rhetoric</a>." The debate turned to focus on Cuba a few times, with Romney saying, "It is time for us to strike for freedom in Cuba, and I will do so as president." Gingrich, who had appeared earlier at Florida International University, reiterated his <a href="http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2012/01/25/newt-gingrich-criticizes-obama-chavez-and-castro-in-florida-talk/" target="_hplink">support for a 'Cuban Spring'</a> if he is elected president.
Gingrich's Spanish-Language Radio Bomb Throwing
In an effort to win the Latino vote, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/19/newt-gingrich-spanish-lan_n_1217435.html?ref=latino-politics" target="_hplink">Newt Gingrich came out with a radio ad in Spanish</a> perfectly attuned to the local audience in his reiterated stance against the Castro brothers' regime in Cuba. Comically, the ad also tried to associate Mitt Romney to the local hatred of Cuba's regime, by criticizing Romney's 2008 use of a phrase often associated with Fidel Castro, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/19/newt-gingrich-spanish-lan_n_1217435.html?ref=latino-politics" target="_hplink">"patria o muerte, venceremos," which translates to "fatherland or death, we shall overcome."</a> But, perhaps aware that further down the road, other Latino voters will be more interested in immigration reform than Cuban relations, Gingrich went for broke and <a href="http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2012/01/in-miami-newt-gingrich-goes-up-on-spanish-language-radio-bashing-mitt-romney.html" target="_hplink"> labeled Mitt Romney as 'anti-immigrant'</a> in the ad.
Romney's Son Tries To Help Papa Romney Connect With Latino Voters
While campaigning in Hialeah, Florida, Romney gave the crowd what they wanted to hear, speaking forcefully of the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/29/mitt-romney-pitch-cuban-americans_n_1240511.html?ir=Latino Voices&ref=latino-voices" target="_hplink">need to defeat the current dictators in Cuba and Venezuela.</a> So far, so good. But then he asked his young son, Craig, to speak to the mostly Cuban-American crowd in Spanish. Stepping up to the mic, Craig said, "<a href="http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/01/29/sheldon-alberts-hispanics-could-give-florida-to-romney-white-house-to-obama/" target="_hplink">Mi papá no habla español.</a>"
Candidates Make Their Case For Latino Conservatives
At January's Hispanic Leadership Network conference in Miami, both Gingrich and Romney delivered speeches with the express aim of attracting the conservative Latino voter, specifically Florida's Cuban-Americans. Romney spoke passionately about freedom, which is a key issue for Cubans in the U.S. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/27/mitt-romney-newt-gingrich-latinos_n_1237063.html?ref=latino-voices&ir=Latino Voices" target="_hplink">given that so many fled the authoritarian Castro regime in Cuba</a>. Gingrich also spoke about freedom, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/27/mitt-romney-newt-gingrich-latinos_n_1237063.html?ref=latino-voices&ir=Latino Voices" target="_hplink">and tried to outdo Romney with his vocal support for a 'Cuban spring'</a> and regime change in the island some 90 miles away.
Ron Paul On Immigration
Distancing himself from the harsh, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/fernando-espuelas/in-republican-debates-ide_b_1220288.html" target="_hplink">anti-immigrant rhetoric that's characterized this year's Republican primaries</a>, Ron Paul voiced a clear and more compassionate view regarding the subject during a conference in Nevada, where the Texas congressman said he favors a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/01/ron-paul-immigration-nevada-caucus-2012_n_1247589.html" target="_hplink">policy that doesn't rely on "barbed-wire fences and guns on our border."</a> Paul criticized politicians for blaming immigrants for the current economic situation in the country. "When things go badly, individuals look for scapegoats," Paul said <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/01/ron-paul-immigration-nevada-caucus-2012_n_1247589.html" target="_hplink">according to the Huffington Post</a>. "Hispanics, the immigrants who have come in, are being used as scapegoats." He went on to compare the current anti-immigrant rhetoric to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/01/ron-paul-immigration-nevada-caucus-2012_n_1247589.html" target="_hplink">Nazi Germany's targeting of Jews in the 1930s.</a> Paul said he was against laws that would require people to carry around identity papers to prove their legal status in the country.
John McCain Urges GOP Candidates To Adopt More Humane Approach To Immigration
In an interview with Univision, Sen. John McCain said that Republican candidates should adopt a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/06/john-mccain-mitt-romney-self-deportation_n_1257368.html" target="_hplink">"very humane approach" to immigration in order to secure Latino votes.</a> McCain, who endorsed Mitt Romney earlier this year has since distanced himself from the candidate's stance on immigration and even <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/06/john-mccain-mitt-romney-self-deportation_n_1257368.html" target="_hplink"> publicly criticized Romney's "self-deportation" plan.</a> McCain, like Romney, opposes the DREAM Act.
Romney Names Immigration Hard Liner As Honorary Chairman
Romney named former Governor Pete Wilson-- a well known immigration hard-liner-- as Honorary Chairman of his California campaign. "I'm honored to have Governor Pete Wilson's support, because he's one of California's most accomplished leaders," Romney said on his website <a href="http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2012/02/06/mitt-romney-names-former-gov-pete-wilson-immigration-hardliner-as-honorary/" target="_hplink">as reported by Fox News Latino.</a> "As governor of California from 1991 to 1999, he led California from the depths of recession to prosperous economic recovery." But former Gov. Wilson is not only remembered for his economic policies, but also for his <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/08/mitt-romney-immigration-antonio-villaraigosa_n_1262552.html/" target="_hplink">hostile stance against undocumented immigrants in the mid 90s.</a> Wilson supported <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/03/harsh-immigration-laws_n_1073576.html" target="_hplink">Proposition 187</a> in 1994, which essentially blamed undocumented immigrants for the poor performance of the state's economy. The law called for cutting off benefits to undocumented immigrants: prohibiting their access to health care, public education, and other social services in California. Prop 187 was ultimately blocked by federal court.