02/16/2012 08:25 am ET Updated Apr 17, 2012

Republicans and Democrats Argue Over "Chimichangas"

Some see it as a great irony and others as complete lack of cultural sensibility and knowledge of Latinos, but the most recent political debate between Democrats and Republicans, have Latinos as main actor and a "chimichanga" (sort of a tex mex fried burrito) as the evidence.
Republican leaders on Wednesday accused Jim Messina, campaign manager for President Barack Obama, of repeating what they characterized as insulting and insensitive jokes about the Latino community, after he quoted the last sentence of a column by Washington Post's Dana Millbank on a tweet.

This 140 character line is the culprit: "Line of the day from WAPO's Dana Milbank: "The chimichanga? It may be the only thing Republicans have left to offer Latinos."

That tweet, early Wednesday morning, caused several responses on the same social media, mostly from individuals close to the republican party and later on, the Republican National Committee and Jeb Bush's Hispanic Leadership Network sent out press releases condemning the content of Messina's comment.

"This message from Obama's Campaign Manager Jim Messina shows us how little Team Obama understands the Latino community. His insensitive comment ignores Latino diversity and shows how Team Obama takes Latinos for granted. Obama's policies have hurt Latino's disproportionately and the Republican message of job creation speaks directly to the Latino community searching for an alternative to Obama," said RNC Spokesperson, Alexandra Franceschi on an emailed statement.

Always on Twitter, other Republican groups and individuals reacted negatively and others responded, making light of the situation or directly arguing with the contention that the remark was a big deal. Thus, a war of "chimichanga" ensued throughout the day yesterday. Contacted for a reaction, a spokesperson for the Obama campaign referred to a subsequent tweet by Messina as a response.

"Tweeting someone else's words caused a stir, but the GOP is on the wrong side of every Hispanic voter priority," said the response by Messina, and linked to a memo from Obama campaign Latino strategists, talking about how the Republican numbers among Latino voters pointed to a very difficult situation for the fall elections.

The original comment about the chimichanga, however, did not happen in the newsroom of the honorable Washington Post, but in a presumably more honorable place: the US Senate, where Senator John McCain apparently had recently talked about the contributions of Arizona to American culture and reported that his state is the place where "the chimichanga was born." He probably forgot to mention that Arizona, the beautiful Grand Canyon State, is also the place where the most famous anti immigrant state law, SB 1070 was born, where sheriff Joe Arpaio is accused of racially profiling latinos as if every one of them was an undocumented immigrant and where the governor scolded the United States president recently, wagging her finger in his face.

This context was not lost on James Garcia, of the Arizona Latino Research Enterprise, a nonpartisan organization that promotes the Latino community. García said the criticism from Republicans was ironic, specially when Arpaio has been a sought after endorsement and campaigner in the republican primary campaign.

"The behavior of the Republican party in Arizona, Alabama and other states, where they've passed extremely anti immigrant laws has been very damaging", García said. "They are out there on a daily basis shooting themselves in the foot. When you have Sheriff Arpaio flying to Iowa to endorse and campaign for candidates, a guy who is among the top public enemies of the Latino community, then what can you expect. It is indeed very ironic that they react this way now".

Others believe that the comment reflects a cultural insensitivity on the part of Messina. "I understand how some people may feel offended that the person running the Obama campaign is connecting with the Latino vote chimichangas. When I saw it I thought, what this is?" said Julio Ricardo Varela, founder of the site Latino"It's obvious that they're making a cultural conection in their heads with what they think it's the Latino culture in the United States".

Varela feels, however that this discussion over a term indicates something more profound is lacking in the republican strategy towards the Latino vote. "Republicans are missing opportunities to appeal to the vote when Latino voters are upset with Obama about different things, specially his deportations, and instead, they are out there talking said Varela.

"On the other hand, when we criticize what Arpaio and comments on Herman Cain electrify the border fence, we were told we were playing the victim," said Varela. "I think the Republicans just do not have a good strategy to get the Latino vote, you see Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, telling these guys to stop it with the immigration issue, they have a huge problem in their hands. When Herman Cain talked about electrifying fences or the "taco" Mayor of East Haven said what he said, we didn't hear this outrage."