GOP's Hispanic hopefuls swim with a nativist tide
Many Hispanic voters -- potentially most -- deeply want a Republican Party that vies for their support on historical Republican principles of entrepreneurialism, social conservatism and prudence.
But many of the Hispanic Republicans running this year for gubernatorial or U.S. Senate seats are making it tough for fellow Latinos to offer much enthusiasm. Some of them embrace the backward and hateful elements toward immigrants and ethnic groups that characterize a swelling nativist tide inside the Republican Party.
In a recent television debate among senatorial candidates in Florida, it was Democrat Kendrick Meek and independent Charlie Crist who favored legalizing undocumented children who are raised here as Americans and join the military or go to college. Nearly 80 percent of Hispanics (and most Americans) in polls support the Dream Act as a no-brainer that is good for both the country and the deserving kids. (It failed to pass the Senate last week.)
Yet in the debate, it was Republican Marco Rubio who opposed it. For good measure, he endorsed Arizona's harsh immigration law and added that English should be made the nation's official language, even though that is a fading issue.
And while it was Republicans who blocked the Dream Act in the Senate, Rubio, with a straight face, blamed the Democrats -- for raising Hispanic hopes. "It's a cynical way to play politics with the lives of real people," he said. "This is what always happens with Hispanic voters in this country, they manipulate them come election time."
Cuban Americans, such as Rubio, tend to be more conservative than other Latinos, but it is unlikely that even many Cuban Americans share such an extreme stance. Rubio's views, however, have won him the backing of the Tea Party movement and other conservatives, propelling him to the lead in the Senate race.
Is he pandering for such support? Only he knows.
In Nevada, meanwhile, Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Sandoval also supports the "papers, please" Arizona law. A federal judge has blocked implementation of most of the law, but Sandoval was quoted in a column as saying he wasn't worried about its potential racial profiling because his children "don't look Hispanic."
Sandoval later said he didn't recall making the comment, and apologized if he did. "I am proud of my heritage and my family," he said.
That hasn't stopped his trailing Democratic opponent, Rory Reid, from charging that Sandoval has "chosen not to stand with his own community."
In New Mexico, GOP gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez is out to be the nation's first Latina governor by opposing the nuanced policies of outgoing Gov. Bill Richardson, including giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. In television ads, Martinez stands on the border and talks tough about immigrant criminals, even though rates of crimes by immigrants are lower than by U.S. citizens.
"There is a stereotype that Hispanics must be in favor of different policies than I am expressing, and that's not what I'm finding at all," she said. Polls, however, show that most Hispanics favor her Democratic opponent, Diane Denish, in what is a close race.
Still, it is true that Hispanics tell pollsters that they favor tighter border enforcement (while legalizing the unauthorized already here). And Rubio is good when he says that he wants the Republican Party to be the "pro-legal immigration party, not the anti-illegal immigration party."
But he and the others dissimulate. They do nothing to deflate the current demonization of immigrants -- particularly Latinos -- that divides the country, tars all Hispanics and comes mostly from within the ranks of their party and its fellow travelers.
Tracking polls by Latino Decisions show that as of last week, only 20 percent of Hispanic voters will vote Republican in November, compared with 53 percent for Democrats. Republicans may still win control of one or both houses of Congress this year, but to win back the White House in 2012, the electoral college math is against the GOP if it can't do much better than that among Hispanics. To do so, Republicans need more than a few Latinos over-caffeinated on tea.
Edward Schumacher-Matos is syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.