Memo to Republicans — the over 70-percent Latino vote for Barack Obama is about as loud a wake-up call as you can get, say some Latinos in the GOP. It is time to heed the “adapt or die” adage.
“There are too many candidates and legislators in our party saying stupid things; and it’s time to shut up and listen for a change,” says Republican consultant Danny Vargas. ”In the last 6 or 7 years our party has become more acidic, divisive and angry, and we’ve lost sight of the fact we are a big tent,” Vargas adds. ”It’s time to reconstitute the party.”
So some Latino Republicans have decided “to take the bull by the horns and say, ‘this is my party,’ and this is what we stand for,” says Vargas.
Former Commerce Secretary and Juntos con Romney co-chair Carlos Gutierrez announced one way to do that. Gutierrez announced the formation of a super PAC, “Republicans for Immigration Reform,” to support immigrant reform-friendly Republican candidates, including Latino Republican candidates. These Hispanic Republicans would support legalizing the nation’s over 11 million undocumented immigrants, a position rejected by many in the Republican party.
Apart from the new super PAC, Vargas says Latino Republicans “are having conversations, conference calls, and local-level meetings — it’s about engagement,” he says. Vargas adds that Republicans “have done a pretty good job of alienating people — the change is going to have to happen at the local, state and national level.”
Many Latino Republicans were quite vocal in condemning – or at least criticizing — Mitt Romney’s remarks that the reason he lost the presidential race was because Obama promised ‘gifts’ to Latino, black and young voters, such as ‘amnesty’ to ‘children of illegal aliens,’ free health care and free contraception for young women. Conservative Republican Alfonso Aguilar, who supported Romney, told NBC Latino the comments were ’a slap in the face’ and ‘disturbing,’ saying these kind of remarks were what cost Romney the election. New Mexico Republican governor Susana Martinez said comments like that ‘set us back as a party.’
Latino Republicans say it is also necessary to study — and reassess — how Republican policies have come across to Latino voters. “I’ve always been a limited government person,” explains Vargas, “but we have to recognize Hispanics see government as a partner, which is not the same as saying they want cradle to grave benefits.”
The question is: Will others in the party listen to Latino Republicans when they argue for a “kinder, gentler” party, in the words of George W. Bush?
Perhaps the timing is helpful – for now. “Latino Republicans have tried this before, and the political winds were against them, but now with demographics the way they are and with the election results, the wind is at their back,” says Rodolfo Espino, who teaches political science at Arizona State University. Espino warns, though, that Latino Republicans have to strike while the iron is hot.
“In the short-term it is likely some Republicans will listen, but they need to do the work now, before people move on and go other issues,” says Espino.
Texan Latino Republican Joshua Treviño told NBC Latino that states like Texas “will be the cockpit in which the conservative future either is redesigned, so we win 40 percent of the Latino vote, or everything completely implodes and falls apart, and Barack Obama winning 70 percent of the Latino vote becomes the new normal.’
Juntos con Romney co-chair Carlos Gutierrez, when he was interviewed by the AP on his new pro-immigration reform Republican super PAC, said his party has no choice but to appeal to the groups who rejected the GOP in this recent election. “If we get this right… the 21st century is ours — if we get it wrong, shame on us,” Gutierrez added.
Republican consultant Vargas says regardless of how other Republicans in his party think, he and other Latinos are forcefully going out to work hard to appeal to the nation’s Hispanic voters.
“We’re planting the flag and saying this is what we stand for, and if the rest of the party wants to follow, that’s great, but if not, we’re doing it anyway,” says Vargas. “Latino Republicans are not going anywhere.”