Within the conservative/Republican coalition, there are two schools of thought about the Latino vote.
One suggests that given their strong family values, Latinos should find an affinity with the GOP. An opposing school of thought, laid out cogently by Heather McDonald, notes the economic liberalism of many Hispanics.
Certainly, any GOP rhetoric that allows Democrats to claim (falsely) that our party is hostile to Latinos based on ethnicity or skin color needs to stop. But simply altering our rhetoric or policies isn't going to help unless Latinos actually know about them. Too many Latinos are simply not exposed to the GOP message of growth and opportunity.
One of my dearest friends in California is an immigrant from Guatemala. She came over the mountains in the early '80's, worked as a hotel maid in downtown Los Angeles, and accepted the Reagan amnesty of 1986. She is a proud American citizen, and one of the smartest women I know. Years ago, she gave me two important insights into the Latino vote:
(1) Media - The Spanish-speaking Latino media in America is left-wing, and that's the only message a lot of Latinos are hearing. Exhibit A is Piolin, an incredibly popular drive-time radio talk show host in Los Angeles (and one of the top radio talk show hosts in the country). If you're of Latino descent and in an area where he broadcasts, you either listen to him or have listened to him. There are virtually no countervailing forces on the right. It's hegemony. We need to acknowledge the imbalance, and start working to get more conservative Latino voices on Spanish speaking media -- appealing personalities who can explain and teach their audiences about conservatism. Don't believe me? Check out the picture of Piolin with President Obama. We're not even in the game, folks.
(2) Class warfare - We need to do a better job understanding the political cultures from which many Latinos come. Unlike America, many countries do have explicitly "class-based" politics, where parties are less the vehicles for advancing ideas and policies than they are advancing competing class interests. Latinos are regularly told by Spanish-speaking media that the Republicans are the "party of the rich" and the Democrats are the "working people's party." Ethnic and race-based discussion is much more incendiary and one-sided than even what we hear on English-speaking media. Given the political cultures many Latino immigrants have left, they are much more open to claims about class division and warfare than Republicans might realize -- and assertions that would be laughable to those raised in the American "classless" political culture may have more resonance for them than we would otherwise imagine.
There's no point in trying to decide whether Latinos are "natural" Republicans or "natural" Democrats until the conservative message of equality of opportunity, hard work, and freedom has been made to them in a compelling way. For too long, Republicans have been expecting the mass of Latino voters to listen to the media where we feel comfortable communicating. We need to take the debate to the media where they are listening.
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