Former President Ronald Reagan once famously quipped, “Hispanics are natural Republicans; they just don’t know it yet.”
The inclusion of several Hispanic speakers at the Republic National Convention was clearly an attempt by the party to continue the process of remedying that situation. Certainly there are skeptics who look at the many Hispanic faces who spoke at the convention, and dismiss this gesture as window dressing.
I say that these folks have a point - on the surface. However, if one were to scratch the surface, they would begin to understand that there is much more to this issue. Reagan, the former governor of the highly Hispanic state of California, knew what he was talking about.
The Hispanic community - especially its large and growing evangelical community - has a structural value system that closely mirrors the Republican Party’s positions on many issues including the right to life and traditional marriage. These are fundamental values that can’t easily be dismissed by “skeptics.”
Most political observers believe that the reason why, despite their primarily conservative values, most Hispanics are leaning toward voting for President Obama in the upcoming election, is because Republicans have not come forward with a positive message or platform on comprehensive immigration reform. Certainly that issue is the “elephant in the room.” However, the fact is that there are many Republicans that do want to address the issue, and many of these folks do believe that to solve our nation’s immigration crisis, we must solve the problem in a comprehensive manner.
Personally, I do not believe that we have heard the final word on this issue from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. I believe that the development of his immigration platform is an ongoing process.
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, gave the opening night benediction at the convention. Rodriguez also knows what he is talking about. He recently said of Romney, “I can’t deny the fact that he’s going to inevitably have to cross the proverbial Jordan of immigration. If he wants to step into the Promised Land, he’s going to have to address immigration reform.”
However, Rodriguez knows that the Hispanic vote does not hinge on the single issue of immigration, although it is an important gateway issue that must be addressed in order to engage the community.
Rodriguez, who I consider both a friend and a colleague, explains the Hispanic point of view this way: “To Hispanics, our support of the biblical definition of marriage is not a matter of politics but a matter of faith. It is our faith that compels us to care for the poor and speak against injustice. It is our faith that prompts us as Hispanic evangelicals to speak out against bullying and against the persecution of gays and lesbians in third world countries. It is our Christian faith that requires us to uphold the biblical definition of marriage as a sacred union between one man and one woman.”
He has further stated, “The bridge between reluctancy and enthusiasm as it pertains to the Romney candidacy is called trust. Can evangelicals trust Romney not only to fix the economy but also will Romney defend life, strengthen the family, push back on the incursions regarding religious liberty as made evident by the Health and Human Services mandate? In other words, can evangelicals trust Romney with the trifecta of evangelical concerns; faith, family and freedom?”
I would note that Democratic Party has their own “proverbial Jordan” to cross, in explaining their own positions on values issues that are of vital concern to the Hispanic community. The DNC had removed the word “God” from their platform, and their attempt to add the word back into their platform was messy and embarrassing. The DNC has also repudiated at least two of the three value issues that make up the evangelical trifecta of concerns, the right to life, and traditional marriage.
I would further note that while support in the Hispanic community for President Obama is wide, it is also very shallow. The Hispanic community is disillusioned due to the lack of movement by the current administration on comprehensive immigration reform. The community is, in a word, disappointed.
So while the president is leading in Hispanic support by a wide margin, I would suggest that we have not nearly heard the last word on this subject.
In the coming days and weeks, as Hispanics and all people search deep within their personal values, and make the solemn choice for who they will vote for in November, that they will pause and reflect. Yes, the issue of immigration is certainly a gateway issue into the hearts and minds of Hispanics. I would simply remind everyone that if the Republican Party decides to allow their “better angels” to inform their immigration position, then we will have a real race on our hands. The issues of faith, family, and freedom are all strong and fundamental values, and without question, it is the Republican Party that has strongly embraced these values as tenets of their viewpoint and ideology.
Finally, I would suggest that while the immediate struggle between the parties for the Hispanic vote is about 2012, there is much more at stake than this one election. This is about the future. I note that every 30 seconds, a Hispanic citizen turns 18 in this country. The battle for the heart and soul of the Hispanic community is actually a battle for control of the entire electorate, perhaps for decades to come. So, in reality, it makes absolutely no political sense for either party to alienate the Hispanic community. The Republicans are actually in the driver’s seat.
They have the message that speaks to the values that resonate with Hispanics. However, in order to capitalize on their conservative values of faith, family, and freedom, the Republicans must simply get out of their own way, and adopt a welcoming message on immigration policy that speaks to both the present, and to the future of our nation.
Robert Gittelson, president and co-founder of Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CFCIR) and immigration policy advisor for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference executive board.