Column: Romney miffs LatinosSAN DIEGO — Fellow journalists have been asking me how Mitt Romney would do with Latino voters if he were the GOP presidential nominee. Dios mio! Why not just go for broke and nominate Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz.?
By: Ruben Navarrette, Worthington Daily Globe
SAN DIEGO — Fellow journalists have been asking me how Mitt Romney would do with Latino voters if he were the GOP presidential nominee.
Dios mio! Why not just go for broke and nominate Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz.?
That’s how unpopular the former Massachusetts governor has become with this crucial group of voters — one that no Republican can ignore if he wants to win the presidency.
Political experts say that the GOP nominee must get at least 30 percent of the Latino vote to win the White House.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry might be able to achieve such a level of support. He stood up to attacks from other presidential hopefuls intent on portraying him as soft on illegal immigration.
But at this point, as the person who launched many of those attacks, Romney doesn’t have much of a chance. In fact, all he has earned so far is scorn.
Lionel Sosa is a San Antonio-based advertising executive and Republican strategist who has advised George W. Bush and John McCain. Sosa recently told The New York Times that while a couple of GOP candidates are still in the running to win Latino backing, one person has blown it: Romney.
“(Romney) can make as many trips to Florida and New Mexico and Colorado and other swing states that have a large Latino population,” said Sosa, “but he can write off the Latino vote.”
It’s all because of immigration. That’s usually not the No. 1 issue for Latinos. In most polls, the economy, education and health care all rate as more pressing concerns. But the issue rises in importance when tensions flare, as they did in response to anti-immigrant and anti-Latino measures in such states as Alabama, Georgia, Arizona and South Carolina.
These laws are not just anti-illegal immigration, as supporters claim. When you empower local and state law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration law based on “reasonable suspicion” that someone is in the country illegally, you invite racial and ethnic profiling. When that happens, a law becomes anti-immigrant and anti-Latino.
Not only does Romney support those laws, he was the one who first brought up — during the CNN/tea party debate in Tampa — the fact that Perry signed a law allowing illegal immigrants who live in Texas to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. And it is Romney who — despite having once supported, while governor of Massachusetts, a comprehensive approach to reform that allows illegal immigrants to earn legal status — has now remade himself as a fire-breathing opponent of illegal immigration.
Latinos resent being turned into a pinata for the sake of politics.
After one debate, I got a phone call from a Latino Republican political consultant who was incensed. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, “I have new respect for Rick Perry for standing his ground. And I’ve lost all respect for Mitt Romney. If he’s the nominee, I’ll do everything I can to help defeat that (expletive)!”
I would wager that Romney lost the respect of many Latinos by providing simple solutions to the immigration problem, i.e., putting “more boots on the ground”; by being uninformed about the issue; by coming across as a hypocrite for criticizing Perry for being soft on illegal immigration while he himself employed illegal immigrants to do landscaping at his home; and, most importantly, by portraying illegal immigrants as takers who come to the United States for a free lunch — rather than contributors to the local, state, and national economies.
As if that wasn’t enough, Romney achieved a new level of offensiveness when his campaign put up a commercial in New Hampshire attacking Perry by linking him to Mexico and former Mexican President Vicente Fox, who agreed with the Texas governor on letting illegal immigrants pay in-state tuition. This is particularly ironic given that Romney has family roots in Mexico. Mitt’s father, George Romney, was born south of the border. His great-grandfather, Miles Park Romney, fled the United States and crossed into Mexico in 1885 to escape religious persecution. The result was the Mormon enclave of Colonia Juarez in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.
During this campaign and for years leading up to it, Romney hasn’t done a single thing to win the support of Latino voters and quite a bit to lose it. If he’s the Republican nominee, he’ll pay for that mistake — and so will the party.
Ruben Navarrette’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.