Latino voters need more than candidates who just look like us


In the wake of the 2012 presidential election, the Republican Party made it clear that its first and only priority was winning the Latino vote in 2016. But with Super Tuesday upon us, it seems the GOP’s primary strategy is to simply put candidates onstage that look like us, while not appealing to our main priorities.

That’s not enough. To win this crucial demographic, conservatives will need to tone down their harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric. The rise in activism and voter registration reflects a desire from our community to be heard in the political process, not the desire to see a Latino candidate elected president. And right now, every Republican candidate, including Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, is standing on the wrong side of the issues driving voters to the polls.

The irony is US Latinos (a term we’re using generally here to identity the diverse group of voters with roots in Latin America) could easily find a home in the Republican Party. As Texas senator Ted Cruz mentioned during the last Republican debate in Houston, the party’s message of “faith, family, and patriotism” resonates with many voters. Latinos have historically remained socially conservative when it comes to a “pro life” stance and other so-called family values, stemming from the longstanding influence of the Catholic Church.  The irony is US Latinos could easily find a home in the Republican Party.  Studies also indicate that they care deeply about the economy, jobs, and education. The success of politicians including Rubio and Cruz, Nevada governor Brian Sandoval, and New Mexico governor Susanna Martinez, show that Republican messages can resonate with Hispanic voters.

And yet the Republican Party continues to underestimate the importance of immigration. Latino voters are very likely to have a family member or friend affected by the debate. In this context, immigration is much more than a political talking point. Even for those voters who don’t consider immigration their most important topic, anti-immigration policies often manifest themselves as anti-Latino rhetoric, driving away their votes.

After years of soul-searching, it seems the Republican Party has done more to alienate than to unite. According to the Latino Decisions Survey, voters believe that Democrats rather than Republicans support their views on immigration reform and care more about Latinos generally. In large part, this is because Republicans sponsor the harshest and most drastic immigration laws. This is already playing out in my home state, Arizona.

 The anti-immigrant movement in Arizona has galvanized the Latino community into a formidable political force. The anti-immigrant movement in Arizona has galvanized the Latino community into a new and formidable political force. In response to a decade-long wave of anti-immigrant and, more generally, anti-Latino proposals like Arizona SB 1070 (the now infamous “show me your papers” law), members of the community mobilized. There was a major political backlash by a wide range of traditional and non-traditional political players. The state became ground zero for the nation’s superheated debate over immigration policy. And Arizona Latinos registered to vote in droves to push back on these policies and the Republicans who sponsored them.

Today, those same anti-immigrant forces are still at work in the Republican Party. The hardline stances on immigration adopted by the GOP’s three leading candidates sound like attacks against people who are often friends and relatives.

While it’s hard to see Latino voters supporting Donald Trump, given his remarks disparaging Mexico, it’s equally hard to see them supporting Rubio or Cruz. Rubio continues to back further away from his work to reform immigration, adopting increasingly hard-line stances. Meanwhile Cruz has called for the deportation of every undocumented migrant. Hearing Republicans of Latino descent spout anti-immigrant policies does not make the party seem more attractive or compassionate. Rather, it shows how deeply out of touch the party is when it comes to winning the Latino vote.

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