Both Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama need to woo the Hispanic vote to secure the presidential victory.
They are aware that Hispanic votes in general and in the swing states in particular could change the course of this election. In 1996, Bill Clinton won 66 percent of the Hispanic evangelical vote and 73 percent of the Hispanic vote overall. In 2004, the single factor that gave George W. Bush unprecedented levels of Hispanic support came from Hispanic Protestants, who voted 56 percent in favor of his candidacy compared to 44 percent in his 2000 run. In 2008, Barack Obama took the win with 67 percent of the Hispanic vote and a majority of the Hispanic evangelical vote. Hispanic evangelical voters fit the mood of the majority electorate when it comes to presidential politics. If this remains, Romney and Republicans face a tough scenario for winning this year.
While Republican leaders Boehner, Cantor and McConnell have ensured the ugly and ethnic rhetoric used to describe the immigration problem has been toned down in their chambers, they must be cringing behind closed doors at the way Romney has alienated Hispanics on the immigration issue. This is not just my opinion but that of Republican Hispanic Leaders. Marco Rubio himself said in an interview with Fox News Latino, “It’s hard to make an economic argument to people who think you want to deport their grandmother.” In fact, a very sensible analysis comes from former Republican Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who stated that Hispanics are, “dismayed by verbal assaults that sound more anti-Hispanic than anti-illegal immigration. It is good policy and good politics for Republicans to push for comprehensive immigration reform legislation that supports our national security and economic policies. However, the tone of the debate surrounding those efforts should be civil and compassionate.”
Romney has boxed himself into a corner on immigration. There is virtually no way for him to move away from his - and his party’s- destructive positions on this issue, without alienating a core constituency which is animated by rhetoric that is at times more anti-Hispanic than anti-illegal immigration. Romney has even alienated Hispanic clergy who are strong Republicans. We perceive self-deportation as a euphemism for the starving of people until they have no choice but to leave. We also understand that by extension, this self deportation strategy would starve two million Hispanic American citizen children and an additional one million citizen children of other ethnicities.
Many Hispanic evangelicals cannot understand Romney’s callousness given that his great-grandfather fled to Mexico due to religious persecution, and his father was born there. Shouldn’t a presidential candidate whose family has suffered persecution, endured flight, and in essence lived as refugees be more sympathetic? Does he understand that when he called Arizona’s hateful law a model for the nation, when he poses for photo opportunities with Arizona Sheriff Arpaio or praises Kris Kobach for his work on the Arizona and Alabama laws, he appears to many Hispanic people as an uncaring soul, void of compassion?
For this presidential candidate and his party to state they can tack to the center now that the primary is over by publicly vetting potential Hispanic VPs or by blaming Democrats for not passing immigration reform, after every anti-immigrant state law has been sponsored and passed with overwhelming Republican support is cynical to the degree that borders on illusion. Do they believe we are so deficient?
The latest play is to blame the White House for not passing comprehensive immigration reform or the Dream Act. I do not want to defend White House failures on immigration but it is in Congress where laws are made. To date, the opposition to any legislative movement on has been Republican: just count the Dream Act votes or the failure of Republicans to bring forth any legislative proposals other than border enforcement.
Hispanic people of faith ask ourselves, if Romney was willing to eviscerate Perry and Gingrich for trying to find a solution to immigration that is not starvation, what will he do to us if elected? After the election we will see if Rubio was right. Will Hispanic evangelicals choose economics or their grandmothers?
The Reverend Luis Cortés, Jr., is president of Esperanza.