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Latinos and the GOP

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When I came up with the idea for this program, I figured I could get together a group of Republicans and have a serious discussion about why the party has not succeeded among Latinos, and looks poised to do even worse in the years to come.

As a guy who covers politics I figured we could brainstorm about what the GOP could do in the future to do better, how immigration was complicating Republican efforts among naturalized and native-born voters, and talk about whether hotheads in the party even realized how deeply their rhetoric alienated Latino voters.

In theory, this was going to be a great show.

In reality, there were glimpses here and there of the show I had in mind... bits and snatches of conversation where four Republican and Republican-supporting Latinos conceded there was a problem and talked seriously about how things had gotten that way. Unfortunately... this made up very little of a one-hour edition of Destination Casa Blanca.

For much of the program, I thought I had fallen through Alice in Wonderland's looking glass, up was down, down was up, and history... just didn't happen. Latino voters are a growing portion of the electorate, and supporting Democratic candidates with greater regularity. The Republican portion of the Latino vote has declined in three straight national elections, after peaking briefly at 44% in 2000, when Texas Governor George W. Bush didn't do as badly as Bob Dole, George HW Bush, and others. Let me remind you that 44% isn't so great... it's a losing number... but clearing 40% put states like Texas, Florida, Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada beyond the reach of Democrats. Dropping below that minority percentage of that minority's vote suddenly put what used to be reliable Republican states in play.

My guests, Danny Vargas, Maricruz Magowan, Adolfo Franco, and Mario Lopez were understandably reluctant to talk about Republican failures with Latino voters. They much preferred to talk about the well-known Democratic politician, Barack Obama, and his administration. The Democrats were, it was said, engineering a takeover of the economy, driving up the cost of health care, and blocking comprehensive immigration reform.

I had no idea whether they had gotten their talking points all straightened out before coming on the program, but the recent history of the United States, before, let's say, 2009, vanished into the mist. Suddenly, it was not a Republican president in the Oval Office when the world's biggest economy careened into a ditch. The GOP was nowhere to be found, in the panel's recollection, when an ugly and divisive fight over comprehensive immigration reform exploded in 2006 and continued into 2007. Adolfo Franco even credited John McCain with spearheading comprehensive immigration reform alongside President Bush, conveniently forgetting that McCain had to move right during the presidential primary season, eventually reaching the point where he publicly declared he wouldn't even vote for his own bill.

Tom Tancredo? Never heard of him?

Recently-elected Republican San Diego congressman Duncan Hunter, who has publicly declared that the 14th Amendment--making all native-born persons citizens--should be repealed? Who's he? Continuing speculation from Republican office-holders that it might be a good idea to deport citizen children with their illegal immigrant parents?... No problem. The narrative that it was evil Democrats who were the real reason immigration reform was dead for this congress was much more appealing to the panel.

As for why Latinos continued to vote for Democrats... Or why almost every elected Latino on Capitol Hill was a Democrat? Various villains were identified: The media. Democrats who lie to voters about what they can do for them. And again, the bad old media, that persists in pushing the lie that Democrats care about Latinos and Republicans don't.

Then-California governor Pete Wilson's support of Proposition 187, which would have denied state-funded services to thousands of illegal immigrants might have been an understandable response to the state's continuing fiscal woes. It might have even slowed the flow of undocumented immigrants into California. But it also had the effect of turning off the state's massive Latino population to the Republican Party. While my guests made interesting points about dependence on government services, about the need to encourage free enterprise, and lower taxes, they seemed reluctant to grapple with what really turns off young Latinos--and the population is disproportionately young--about the Republican Party.

Again, and I can't stress this enough, I don't have a dog in the fight. I'm a reporter, not a partisan. When you watch one side setting the table for future electoral strength and the other setting the table for future electoral problems, that's a story. It is a hard story to tell when the people on the inside were far more interested in scoring points on the other side than figuring out what to do next, and how to address the terrifying demographic realities now forming for the Republican Party.

It's a worthwhile conversation to have. Republicans have for decades made the point that socially conservative Latinos, repelled by gay marriage, against legal abortion, highly church-affiliated, are natural Republicans and a fruitful future supply of supporters. Only it hasn't happened yet. According to some political scientists, as long as Latinos are heavily working-class, heavily concentrated in low-paid industries, heavily-dependent on government services, they will continue to see the Democratic Party...not the "Democrat Party" as my guests could not resist calling it, as a guarantor of their future well-being.

Why do you think Latinos are mainly Democratic voters? Are you one? Would you listen to the Republican Party's pitch? I'm really interested in hearing what you have to say, and in having you watch the excerpts of this weeks program here on the web site. Enjoy... and talk back to me! Have a good week.

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