How the Republican Party can gain — and keep — Latino voters

Ruben Nararrette
Liberal Opinion

Ruben Navarrette

Columnist, host & author
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Much has been said and written about Latino voters joining the Republican Party. However, some observers think the overturning of Roe v. Wade will erode the shift to the Right by Latinos. Straight Arrow News contributor Ruben Navarrette agrees more Mexicans and Mexican-Americans — who make up more than half of all U.S. Latino voters — are becoming comfortable with the idea of voting for GOP candidates. But he says that to gain and keep those Latino voters, the Republican Party would be wise to avoid the mistakes made by Democrats.

Look, not all Mexicans and Mexican-Americans are leaving the Democrats. In fact, relatively few are. Still there are two big questions. One, why is this happening? Answer: Because Democrats are idiots and they do all the wrong things. They started taking Latinos for granted, stopped asking for our support, and seemed insulted that they actually had to go out and earn our votes. And two, how long will this phenomenon last? Answer: That depends. 

That depends on what Republicans do now from this point on. These Latino votes just fell in their laps because Democrats dropped the ball and people don’t tend to respect that which is not earned. Conservative radio host Michael Medved, who has been a good friend of mine for about 15 years, recently asked me precisely the right question. How could Republicans blow this historic opportunity? 

Three ways, I told him. First, Republicans could make the same mistake that Democrats made that set all these defections in motion. They could take us for granted, ignore us, refuse to invest the time and effort to keep us in the fold. They could pursue interests that conflict with our own, all when they should be listening to what we want, and give it to us. It’s not that hard. Certainly it’s not as hard as politicians make it out to be. Second, Republicans could continue the double talk. One minute, they say, “Welcome! Glad you’re here, mi casa su casa,” and they insist they want more Latino support. The next minute, they’re back to their nativist dog whistles, they’re warning of an invasion of predators and moochers who they claim are coming to do Americans harm. When the truth is, all these immigrants want to do is our chores. Third, Republicans could miss their chance to do the simplest and most necessary thing of all: Just go out and meet us.

Get to know us, figure out what issues we care about. Republicans need to go into Latino communities and barrios and neighborhoods and build relationships. If you want our votes, you have to go ask for them. We’re a social people, so come out and socialize with us.

You may have heard that mucho Latinos are leaving the Democratic Party. That’s right. Hasta la vista, baby! You may also have heard that more and more of us are giving Republican candidates a big abrazo. Well, yes and no. The truth is more complicated and a lot more nuanced. 

First things first. When we say Latinos, what the media and the politicos really mean to say is Mexicans or Mexican-Americans. Let’s further clarify those terms. Mexicans were born in Mexico, but became naturalized U.S. citizens, earning the right to vote. Mexican-Americans were born in the United States and got the right to vote as a birthright. The rest of the Latino chessboard is already set and largely unchanged. There is no Latino vote, per se. 

Democrats get votes from Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Guatemalans. Republicans are backed by Cubans, Colombians, and Salvadorans. So when people talk about how Latinos are now a swing vote, let’s be careful and let’s be clear about who’s doing the swinging. It’s Mexicans and Mexican-Americans – my tribe – who are predominately found in the southwest and represent as much as 60% of the 62 million Latinos in the United States. We’re the whole enchilada, folks. 

Now back to the main story of those defections away from the Democratic Party and toward the Republican Party. Look, not all Mexicans and Mexican-Americans are leaving the Democrats. In fact, relatively few are. Still there are two big questions. One, why is this happening? Answer: Because Democrats are idiots and they do all the wrong things. They started taking Latinos for granted, stopped asking for our support, and seemed insulted that they actually had to go out and earn our votes. And two, how long will this phenomenon last? Answer: That depends. 

That depends on what Republicans do now from this point on. These Latino votes just fell in their laps because Democrats dropped the ball and people don’t tend to respect that which is not earned. Conservative radio host Michael Medved, who has been a good friend of mine for about 15 years, recently asked me precisely the right question. How could Republicans blow this historic opportunity? 

Three ways, I told him. First, Republicans could make the same mistake that Democrats made that set all these defections in motion. They could take us for granted, ignore us, refuse to invest the time and effort to keep us in the fold. They could pursue interests that conflict with our own, all when they should be listening to what we want, and give it to us. It’s not that hard. Certainly it’s not as hard as politicians make it out to be. Second, Republicans could continue the double talk. One minute, they say, “Welcome! Glad you’re here, mi casa su casa,” and they insist they want more Latino support. The next minute, they’re back to their nativist dog whistles, they’re warning of an invasion of predators and moochers who they claim are coming to do Americans harm. When the truth is, all these immigrants want to do is our chores. Third, Republicans could miss their chance to do the simplest and most necessary thing of all: Just go out and meet us. 

Get to know us, figure out what issues we care about. Republicans need to go into Latino communities and barrios and neighborhoods and build relationships. If you want our votes, you have to go ask for them. We’re a social people, so come out and socialize with us. If Republicans make any of these mistakes, and knowing them, they could probably make all three, well, then it’ll be adios.

If Latinos end their flirtation with the GOP, they could go back to the Democratic Party, because for many of us that feels like home. Or they could just throw up their hands and say, “To hell with both parties,” and not vote as often as they used to. 

Of course, I know, I know. Sitting out Election Day would only hurt Latinos. But come on. Can anyone argue with a straight face that the current political mashup is actually helping us?


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