The Republican primary season is heading to Florida, then out west for primaries in Nevada, Arizona and Colorado, all states with Hispanic heavy populations. These primaries are worthy of attention as they present a clear test of the GOP's strategy of pandering to the anti-immigrant wing of their base; a strategy to be clear which has already begun to create brand erosion among Hispanic voters. At this point the Republican Party would do well to heed the example of Ronald Reagan who understood that at its core what made America fundamentally great was that it was open to those who truly wanted to be here.
Things were not always so with the Grand Old Party, in 2004 George W. Bush, following the Reagan model of compassionate conservatism, made significant inroads with Hispanics, receiving 40% of their vote, an all time high for the Republican Party. In 2006 Congress came close to passing a comprehensive overall of our immigration system. Yet in 2008, after suffering a backlash in the primaries, the Republican Party turned from their moderate immigration stance and the country has suffered ever sense. To be clear so did the GOP brand with Hispanic's, John McCain taking a far harsher tone on immigration only received 31% of their vote. The erosion of trust between the Republican Party and Hispanics had begun.
A recent Pew Hispanic poll has president Obama receiving 68% of the Hispanic vote and Mitt Romney holding at 23%. Another recent poll by Univision has the President receiving 67% of the Hispanic vote, and Romney at 24%. Finally a Latino Decisions tracking poll has Obama at 69% and the eventual GOP nominee at 20%. In all three of these polls the Republican nominee does not come anywhere near the bar set by George W. Bush with 40% percent of the Hispanic vote. These polls are very real indicators of brand erosion facing the GOP as they head to Florida, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado.
Both Republican front runners have put forward harsh immigration stances which leave much to be desired. Mitt Romney has vowed to block the DREAM Act, a piece of legislation which is incredibly popular with Hispanic voters. Newt Gingrich's immigration plan though more nuanced then the other candidates, ultimately advocates for no pathway to citizenship and the creation of a second tier of citizens who would be used mostly for labor purposes. What neither of these candidates offers is anything close to solutions for our broken immigration system, or the level of sensitivity put forth by Ronald Reagan, a political figure both have expressed admiration for.
Which is a shame, as the Republican Party, the party of Reagan and Lincoln used to stand for so much more then the harsh demagoguery of today's GOP. On the issue of immigration, so critically important to the both the country and Hispanic's, both parties are needed to engage, both parties are needed to ultimately achieve change. When the Republican Party decides not to, it hurts not just their electoral chances but the country as a whole.
Ahead of the Florida, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado primaries, one thing is clear that the Republican Party has a long way to go to build back trust with the Hispanic communities. They can start by heeding Reagan and remembering that this country has been made a beacon of hope to the world, by embracing those who are here, and those who are coming to help our country continue to be great.