How do you say debt ceiling in Spanish? How about border security or sequester?
It's a question being asked more often by Republican lawmakers, who are eager to reverse years of declines in Hispanic support. It's also the subject of a story in Monday's Washington Post that explores how House Republicans are making a bigger effort to use Spanish-language media to share the GOP message.
Anchors, reporters and producers with the nation's three largest Spanish-language news outlets -- Univision, Telemundo and CNN en Espanol -- have taken notice and credit GOP lawmakers for trying. One of them is Jorge Ramos, the co-anchor of "Noticiero Univision," the nation's most-watched Spanish-language nightly newscast and the moderator of "Al Punto," the network's Sunday morning political talk show.
We spoke with Ramos recently about the renewed Republican outreach and how it might help the party in future elections. A lightly edited transcript of the interview appears below:
O'Keefe: So what do you make of the fact that Republicans are reaching out to Univision, Telemundo and CNN en Espanol more often?
Ramos: “It’s simple math. We are growing so fast, we are 55 million right now, and in 2050 we’re going to be 150 million in this country. Those are numbers that you can’t put aside. It’s truly a demographic revolution. From my point of view, we have been deciding presidential elections since the year 2000 and we’ll continue to do so in the future.
"In 2016, there are going to be 16 million Hispanic voters. So in a very close election there’s no question that we’ll decide who’s going to be the next president. That’s the context, it’s simply a matter of numbers.
"It’s obvious that our newscasts are not in prime time, but if you take into consideration that Univision for the first time ever is number one in prime time, beating the big four networks from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., we’re only talking 18- to 49-year-olds, that means that there’s a huge interest in whatever we’re doing in entertainment or news.
"Now, when it comes to immigration, there is no question that Latinos are paying attention to whatever we say at Univision, because what we’re doing at Univision is slightly different than what the other networks are doing. We’re not only informing what’s going on, but somehow, our audience is expecting some kind of guide on what to do, not only when it comes to immigration, but also when it comes to the economy, education and health care.
"The way I try to explain it is we’re 17 percent of the population, but we only have three senators. There’s a lack of political representation. And somehow, like it or not, Univision has taken that role. We are somehow filling the political vacuum in the Hispanic community. So yes, there’s much more interest in whatever we do. When it comes to immigration, if you want to be seen and heard, you have to talk to us; there’s no question about that."
When did you start to see the shift among Republicans?
"I think it started after the last presidential election. When you realize that Latinos voted 71 percent for Obama and only 27 percent for Republicans, it was easy to detect that Republicans had a huge problem. There’s a declining trend for Republicans, and if that trend continues, they will lose the White House in 2016. And what I wrote recently and have been saying in other interviews -- if Republicans take the blame for the failure to approve immigration reform, they will lose the White House in 2016.
"I’ve been studying the voting habits of Latinos for the last three decades. And if the Republican presidential candidate doesn’t get at least 33 percent of the Hispanic vote, he loses. The trend is terrible for the GOP right now. So I think that explains why Republicans are so eager to do something about immigration reform right now. The future of the party is at stake."
You're increasingly taking a more activist stance in your writing, on your shows and in these types of interviews. Are you comfortable becoming partly an advocate more so than a journalist?
"I think the audience is very smart, and they do understand the different roles that I play. When I’m doing the newscast, I do not give my point of view, and I do not give my opinion. But clearly when I’m writing books and editorials and when I’m tweeting, I clearly give my point of view.
"You have to remember, Ed, that before being a journalist and before being Mexican American and before anything, I’m an immigrant. I came to this country in 1983, and even though I’m already a U.S. citizen, you never, ever forget that you’re an immigrant. Like it or not, somehow I speak for other immigrants like me, with papers or without papers. So I have to recognize that I have a dual role, on one hand as a journalist, following the same principles as any other American journalist and on the other hand as an immigrant and speaking for other immigrants."
Is Univision comfortable with your changing role?
"They are; it’s not only my role. You see that the news products that we present to our audience are balanced, and they are journalistically fair and well produced, and you see both points of view all the time. But it is clear that our audience -- and we’ve seen the polls -- that the majority of our audience is concerned about the immigration issue and is in favor of immigration reform. So we would be doing a disservice to our audience and our community not to reflect that point of view in our newscasts.
"When you see the polls, you ask, what are the most important issues for Latinos and always it’s education, the economy and number three or four is immigration. But the reality is that immigration is something personal for all Latinos. We all know someone who’s undocumented, who’s either worked with us or who’s our neighbor or he or she is the parent of someone who goes to the same school as your kids. It is personal. The majority of adult Latinos are immigrants, so it’s an issue that’s very close to our heart."
How much air time do you devote to immigration on your nightly newscast, "Noticiero Univision?"
"I don’t have the exact numbers, because it would take forever to measure the minutes, but I can assure you that every time we have an editorial meeting for our Sunday show or daily newscast that we always discuss a possible immigration story. Always, always, always."
Let me ask you about your Sunday political talk show, "Al Punto." [Which means "To the Point."] Have you seen a marked improvement in your ability to get better guests?
"Yeah, again, I would say that it’s been, I’ve noticed it’s become easier to get big names since the election. And I would say that before the election it was easier to get whoever we wanted for our shows. And we had complete access to President Obama and Mitt Romney and to most of their surrogates.
"The last presidential candidate who didn’t want to talk to us was Bob Dole in 1996, and that was the last presidential candidate who decided not to talk to us. Since then, every presidential candidate has somehow talked to us."
Why didn’t Dole want to talk to you?
"I think it was a silly mistake. It was really interesting, because Bob Dole thought he could win the White House without the Hispanic vote. And I think that was the last Republican presidential candidate who made such a mistake. And then Mitt Romney made a huge mistake: He knew he needed the Hispanic vote, but at the same time, it was impossible to win the Hispanic vote promoting the idea of self-deportation."
Have you interviewed House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio)?
"I have, as a matter of fact; I think we’re going to be talking very soon again."
Even though you wrote recently about how he could be demonized by Latinos?
"What I said is the truth. I don’t think he wants to be seen as the next [Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff] Joe Arpaio. And Boehner has in his hands the possibility of bringing immigration reform to a vote in the House. So that’s the reality. Even though it’s process and most people in the audience might not follow every single detail of what’s going on, since we have informed so much of what’s going on, that now it depends on what the House does, then it is very clear that Latinos are putting their attention on Boehner and on whatever he does. He would be the one to get the credit or to be blamed if immigration reform is not approved in the House."
And you will have no qualms with blaming him?
"As far as we know, he has the chance to bring immigration reform for a vote or not, and people know that. I said it in other interviews, but he is the man; Latinos know it and won’t forget it."
Is there anyone else you haven’t been able to interview, or who has refused?
"Lately, we’ve been trying to get George W. Bush, because he was such an important presence. Of course, he’s the Republican president who’s gotten more Hispanic votes than any other president. But he’s not talking or not giving interviews.
And the pope, by the way. But everyone wants him.
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