Throughout the presidential election, I predicted that the Republican Party would have a problem with Latino voters on Election Day. It turns out I was wrong. Republicans don't have a problem; they have a crisis.
President Obama won a stunning 71 percent of the Latino vote on election night. Look beneath those numbers and the trend line is even more striking. In Florida, for example, President Obama not only won a majority of Latino voters, but also a majority of Cuban-American voters. That's the first time since the Cuban Revolution a Democratic candidate has won the Cuban-American vote.
Clearly, Obama connected on an emotional level. Latinos supported him because he supports them. While pundits and political operatives have been quick to try and diagnose the problem for Republicans, their prescriptions are all wrong. Yes, Republicans have a crisis with Latino voters. But re-packaging and re-communicating their ideas won't turn it around. The Republican Party doesn't face a political challenge; it faces a policy challenge. It doesn't need new ideas about marketing; it needs new ideas. Period.
Latino voters didn't turn against Republicans because they didn't understand their message. They understood the GOP message loud and clear. And they rejected it. Think of the policy positions put forward by Mitt Romney during the campaign. On the economy, we were told that people making above $250,000 a year should get tax cuts. On immigration, we were told that illegal immigrants should deport themselves. On education, we were told that there is little or no federal role in supporting our schools. On health care, we were told that those without insurance would continue to be uninsured.
Is it any wonder that Latino voters said no to Romney-Ryan? And regardless of the packaging you use, the product the Republican Party is selling is one Latino voters aren't buying.
As someone who worked with both Republicans and Democrats while serving as speaker of the California State Assembly, I believe America benefits from a healthy debate between two parties. Latino voters are the winners when both parties are competing for their votes. Unfortunately, only one party is trying right now.
So what would a different Republican policy on Latino issues look like? To get to the future, Republicans need to go back to the past.
In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan talked about creating economic growth for all Americans. In his speech announcing his intentions to run in 1980, Reagan called for a "North American Accord" that would bring the United States into closer cooperation with Canada and Mexico. And in 1986, he supported and signed legislation providing a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented workers.
In the 2000s, President George W. Bush made education reform his top priority, and pushed for comprehensive immigration reform that would provide more visas for highly-skilled workers as well as a pathway to citizenship for undocumented residents.
What happened to the party of Reagan and Bush? What happened to Reagan's "shining city upon a hill" or Bush's promise that "el sueño Americano es para ti?" Instead, those policies have been replaced with self-deportation and opposition to the DREAM Act.
Republicans need to get real. They face years of hard work in trying to rebuild a message and a policy that can speak to Latinos. No shortcuts exist. No easy road beckons. Putting hope in Florida Senator Marco Rubio as the party standard-bearer will do little to solve the problem unless Republicans change their policies -- and change them quickly.