When Mitt Romney took to a post-election call with donors to explain to them that he had lost because President Obama gave gifts to various groups that make up his coalition of voters, many Republicans, including prominent Latino conservatives, repudiated his remarks.
Now Florida Senator Marco Rubio and New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, two prominent Republicans who will help shape the way forward in engaging Latino voters, have taken turns isolating Romney on an issue they feel differently about.
“That unfortunately is what sets us back as a party, our comments that are not thought through carefully,” Martinez said at the Republican Governors Association conference. ”Republicans need to stop making assumptions, and they need to start talking to younger people, people of color, and ask them—not talk to them—ask them, ‘What is it that we can do better? How do we earn your vote? How do we earn the ability for you to see that we can be the party that will make your life better and that of your children?’”
Rubio distanced himself from Romney’s assertion that Obama gave undocumented immigrants gifts through deferred action, minorities gifts through health care and young women the gift of free contraception.
“I don’t want to rebut him point by point,” Rubio said of Romney to Politico. “I would just say to you, I don’t believe that we have millions and millions of people in this country that don’t want to work. I’m not saying that’s what he said. I think we have millions of people in this country that are out of work and are dependent on the government because they can’t find a job.”
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NBC Latino contributor and Northern Arizona University political science professor Stephen Nuño says instances of high-profile Latino politicians speaking up in disagreement are crucial at this juncture for the GOP. “At this point the only people who believe Mitt Romney are Mitt Romney and those who continue to watch Fox News without any sense of irony,” Nuño says. ”Governor Martinez and Senator Rubio have a responsibility to talk sense to those elements in the party that got them here in the first place.”
Martinez was clearly doing her part to shape the responsibility Republicans have to articulate their ideas to Latinos.
“We need to embrace them not just at election time. … We should not visit them when we need their vote and then walk away,” Martinez said. “And then four years go by and we go visit them again. We have to make them part of the solution, and the way you do that is by listening to them and then making that part of ‘How do we do this together to make our lives all better?’
“And then once you’ve done it,” Martinez added, “you tell them we did it together.”
Nuño says Martinez and Rubio share an important and unique opportunity.
“I hope they can show the type of leadership that is clearly missing in the GOP and save the party from itself,” he says. “This election gives them more cache within the party to do so and if Latinos are ever going to trust the GOP, it will need to start with folks like Martinez and Rubio.”