Three year ago, in the wake of an electoral smashing by President Obama, Republicans released an autopsy of the 2012 election. The report aimed to explain why the party's 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, lost, lost some groups of voters by long-unseen margins and had only done well with white men.
With the autopsy came some big announcements, rare candor about race, Republicans and politics. Among the revelations, the party would put $10 million into minority voter outreach and add staff with the expertise to oversee this work. Ruth Guerra, an experienced political operative, bilingual Spanish and English speaker and Mexican-American from Texas, was one of them. From the period just after the Republican autopsy on, Guerra served as a key part of the Republican National Committee's Hispanic media team.
This week, Guerra has been at the center of another shockwave. In a highly unusual move during a presidential election, Guerra resigned her post at the RNC and and, as Guerra told The New York Times late Wednesday, join the staff at American Action Network, a super PAC expected to pour millions into Congressional races. Guerra has been circumspect about her departure and the reasons for it, but expressed concern about working to elect Donald Trump, the party's presumptive presidential nominee, according to RNC sources who spoke on condition of anonymity to the Times.
"She's a professional and a party loyalist, so she will probably never say in public," said Sergio Garcia-Rios, an assistant professor at Cornell University with joint appointments in Government and Latino Studies, of Guerra's motives. But, he theorized that "it was Trump or that she was in an increasingly awkward position defending the party and Trump."
And when Garcia-Rios says increasingly awkward, he means it.
Garcia-Rios has watched Guerra closely since she took on her role at the RNC. Guerra became what Garcia-Rios called a "go-to" person on both English and Spanish-language news outlets and on the latter, the person who somehow managed to handle the question on everyone's minds since the GOP declared itself particularly interested in attracting minority voters: Are they serious?
"She had two places she would always go," said Garcia-Rios. "She would say we know we need changes and we are starting that work now. She would say we don't want to be where we have been before which is three months prior to the election saying to Hispanic voters hey there, we value you. And she would really wisely say, we are a big party with a variety of candidates and a variety of positions inside the party on immigration. She would acknowledge the problem but never say outright this is patently horrible."
Yet, here we are. The general election is months away. Trump is the nominee and his idea of Latino outreach, Garica-Rios pointed out, was to tweet about eating a taco bowl and his love of Latinos on Cinco de Mayo.
"In this situation, her usually sharp answers are not really an option," Garcia-Rios said.
What's more, the timing of Guerra's departure very likely signals that a number of conversations are happening inside the party that did not leave Guerra assured that things would be getting better anytime soon on the Latino outreach front. Most candidates attempt to temper their more extreme stances and ideological stances in the general election, in pursuit of independent voters. Guerra stepped down from her role as that race is about to begin, suggesting to Garcia-Rios that Trump may have no such plans.
That's not a singular view. Jeronimo Cortina, an associate professor of Political Science at the University of Houston, thought the timing of Guerra's job change eyebrow raising too. The thing is, Latino voters tend to support economically progressive policy, oppose abortion by a small majority, support attention to climate change, and tend to lean slightly right on issues such as same-sex marriage, Cortina said. So, there are reasons for both parties to believe that they can and should be able to make progress with Latino voters.
But, then there is Trump -- and what he has said about immigration and lots of other issues. "His ideas, his public statements. This campaign really goes against the American foundational myth," said Cortina. "[Trump] has frayed the social fabric. What is our national motto? E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, one. That is not Trump's idea of America. Trump's America is not the one that opened its arms to millions of immigrants, that has, to some degree faced what is required to give minorities a better foothold in society and accepted that those promises have been made to us all. So really, politically speaking, the Republican Party is playing with fire here."
In the short term, if Trump's methods work he could win since white voters remain a substantial chunk of the overall electorate. But, every trend line suggests the white vote will continue to drop as a percentage of the overall electorate.
Worse still, voters tend to remain loyal to parties and with so many Latino voters also young and likely to vote in many more presidential elections, it may take the Republican Party decades to recover from the toll of 2016, Cortina said.
In the face of those daunting numbers, Guerra decided to step away from this particular fight.