February 14, 2013

Many Republicans still can’t seem to understand that there’s far more to Latino public opinion than immigration, and that immigration reform won’t be enough to bring Latino voters to the GOP. This is neatly captured in an op-ed for Politico by Texas Rep. Lamar Smith. The Congressman doesn’t support comprehensive immigration reform (he refers to a package of enforcement and penalties as “amnesty”), but he captures what his GOP colleagues fail to understand:

Republicans should focus on what Hispanics care about: better financial security — more take-home pay, more job opportunities and a stronger economy. That also happens to be a winning formula for all Americans.

Under the Obama administration, Hispanics’ family income has dropped and unemployment is higher than the national average and economic growth has slowed to a crawl. Republicans should address these issues by favoring low taxes, reducing the government’s debt and creating more private-sector jobs.

I disagree with Rep. Smith that austerity is the solution for our economic woes, but the basic point is sound. If Republicans want to win Latino votes, they need a positive agenda that extends beyond immigration. Supporting reform — and then relying on the same rhetoric of low taxes and trickle-down economics — will just give Democrats a greater opportunity to make inroads with the demographic.

Unfortunately, there’s no sign the GOP understands the actual concerns of Latino voters. Yes, Florida Senator Marco Rubio gave his State of the Union response in Spanish and English, but the substance was little more than a variation on the economic worldview that defined the GOP’s approach in last year’s presidential campaign. And rather than find some compromise with President Obama’s push to raise the minimum wage — perhaps by offering an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit instead — Republicans denounced the proposal without offering an alternative. This despite the wide support Latinos show for raising the minimum wage — 85 percent, according to a poll conducted before the 2012 election.

Republicans won’t make inroads with Latino voters unless they recognize the extent to which they need to offer an agenda that responds to the problems and concerns of working Americans. They’ve begun a rhetorical move in that direction — as reflected in House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s speech to the American Enterprise Institute. But they’re still promoting the right-wing, anti-government policies that Latinos refuse to accept.

Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer at The American Prospect, where he writes a blog.