In search of…the Republican Latino

A national Republican group contacted me for information about a prominent Latino public official who served during the Nixon administration in the 1970s. He was nominated for a lifetime achievement award, but the awarding group wasn’t exactly sure what he had done.

Fortunately, I did. It was in the pages of my book.

It seemed curious that staffers around that GOP group didn’t have histories and narratives around to guide them.

That’s one reason why I eagerly anticipated Leslie Sanchez’s book, “Los Republicanos: Why Hispanics and Republicans Need Each Other.” Granted, the title suggested this was an advocacy book. In that sense, I wasn’t disappointed. On the fact-based part, it was more about marketing politics and less about public policy.

Sanchez argues through profiles, charts, anecdotes and sprinkles of history that Latinos represent an upwardly mobile lifestyle group compatible with the Republican Party.

Hers is a big-picture perspective and a grand sweep of events that present “Latinos thriving in this country, but also we’ve actually become avant-garde –’where it’s at.’” She defines that as the interconnected blend of family, faith and community values. These are not to be parsed into “issues,” as Democrats are prone to do, but “becomes a question of how inclusive, how welcoming or how friendly a party is.”

Different from simple self-interest, lifestyle concerns motivate Latinos. These are made up of four elements. They are spirituality, family, collectivism and enterprise. In Sanchez’s thinking, that makes for a ready Republican market. In fact, President Bush’s nine-point gain among Hispanic voters in 2004, she quotes New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici as saying, came from the family focus.

Democrats succeed, when they do, because of a Latino force of habit to vote that way.

Sanchez acknowledges policy discussions are boring. Her studies of Latino voters lead to a question as to whether the real nut is missed — how inclusive, how welcoming and how friendly are the parties, really? “It’s an issue of how they treat the community.”

Some interesting Gallup Poll data shows Hispanic political self-identification tending conservative and moderate on the upswing from 2004 to 2006, compared to liberals who are headed downward sharply. “Clearly,” she says, “Latinos are conservative in their views” and in the future “will bring more and more Hispanics to the GOP.”

She is particularly high on the impact young professional networking groups, faith-based leadership, and the growing communities in non-traditional regions, like the South, can have.

The GOP’s issue is how to harvest, how to relate, how to kibitz in a personal way with a new “forward-thinking and optimistic” potential constituency. She says friendliness isn’t experienced abundantly and there is, of course, alleged media bias.

Small wonder for concern, since some Republicans have soiled the party’s pants with anti-immigrant demagoguery that becomes borderline anti-Latino.

The way to get to Latinos in line is to steal the Democrats’ thunder. Democrats, she claims, speak well on family and community values, but frame them in negative, fear-creating messages. Let the Democrats present it that way. Republicans could put a positive spin on those and accent the positive by appealing to the material and spiritual side of the four-chamber Latino heart.

This is an interesting, optimistic public relations strategy book. But it doesn’t satisfy those of us who have historical memory. Much of what’s here was in a less sophisticated way precisely the GOP’s plan in the 1970s.

Not only was the term “Hispanic” invented then during the Nixon administration, but also the notion of it as a potential national constituency. Ever since, one strategy or another has re-invented who Latinos are, what we want, and, naturally, who we will vote for.

What’s needed is a post-disaster report about why the GOP, having come so far, still can’t get the game plan right. I suspect one reason is because most can’t remember what it was that some of those political architects did that got them a lifetime award by the party.

(Jose de la Isla, author of “The Rise of Hispanic Political Power” (Archer Books, 2003) writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. E-mail joseisla3(at)yahoo.com.)

Comments are closed.