The GOP “Civil War” and Where Latinos Stand in 2014

By Alex Gonzalez

At the begging of last year, The RNC came out with report titled Growth and Opportunity Project, an “autopsy report,” concluding what we already knew: the only way the Party will grow a Latino voting bloc is by talking to the community a la W. Bush.  More specifically, Republicans must begin by talking about immigration in respectful way. We end the year with an autopsy and the “autopsy report” in which RNC chairman Reince Priebus concluded that most of the objectives of Report have failed.  Moreover, we have an ongoing “civil war” within the Republican party, and it is unclear how the RNC will form a plan that will appeal to Latinos. What is certain, is that the 2014 plan should talk about issues that are important to Latinos, such as education, healthcare, jobs, and immigration. All the while, the RNC must counter many conservatives groups like Heritage Foundation and the National Review who asked Republicans to forgo the Latinos since Latinos are genetically Liberals, an argument that is continuously made by Ann Coulter and Rich Lowry, editor of National Review.

But this “liberal” gene argument has to do more with keeping the influence of Latinos minimal within the GOP so only certain groups can continue to have a strong voice and control the voting bloc in the GOP primaries. In other words, if Latinos were to come a big and powerful vote in the Republican primaries, they will effectively take away some level of influence from those groups that actively advocate for ignoring Latinos while portraying them as genetically liberal. This is in itself a foolish argument, since Irish and Jewish Americans have traditional higher Liberal democrat inclinations, yet conservative groups never make the argument to forgo the Jewish and Irish vote. This objection to Latinos within the GOP has to do more with power-grabbing and power-solidification by small groups, even if it means a smaller older “white” base that remains in control by advocating  pushing-out of Latinos.

There were attempts by Republican leaders to launch an effort, led by Hispanic Governors in New Mexico and Nevada, to make up ground with Latino voters, who have largely turned away from the GOP. Yet, these efforts led to nowhere just like the RNC autopsy report.

In New Mexico, in 2010 Susana Martinez won 51 percent of the vote in a five-way contest and won her election with support of 40% of Latinos and thanks to a surge of Tea Party activists in New Mexico. But in 2012, Gov. Martinez was immune to presidential politics. Moreover, while the Tea Party line generally focuses on cutting services, Martinez actually has become popular in the state–and nationwide–as a compromiser that promotes policies aimed at helping the sick and to educate children in her state; and she has even signed in for ObamaCare. Also, Gov. Martinez is very open about her support Immigration Reform.

In Nevada, Brian Sandoval is Pro-choice but supports late-term restrictions and no federal funding. He also promotes education reforms, and has signed in for ObamaCare and bill granting driver licenses to undocumented workers in the state. But he “categorically” opposes “amnesty.”

In other words, by now, whatever elements of the Tea Party are left in New Mexico and Nevada, they must know that Martinez and Sandoval moderate compromisers, and that is why they are popular governors. But there are no Tea Party challengers in Nevada or New Mexico thus far.

Texas, Tea party and the Latino Vote

In 2010, Republican voters in Texas elected the largest bloc of Latino Republicans to the Legislature in History. But In only one of those Latino Republican state legislators elected in 2010 was re-elected to the Texas legislature, Rep. Larry Gonzales from District 52 who ran unopposed. But the 2012 election did add a new Republican Latino legislator, Jason Villalba from district 114 in the Dallas area. The other Latino Republican legislator, J.M. Lozano, changed from a Democrat to a Republican in early 2012 after redistricting brought more conservative voters into his old Democrat district.

As a result, the Republican Party in Texas (RPT), and the RNC are at a crossroad between the so-called “establishment” and the “tea party” groups vying over control. But neither side has shown any real interest in creating a strong bloc for the Latino vote in Texas because they presume that Latinos will vote as democrats or because it may run counter to their goal, limiting the power of Latinos within the Party.

A small Latino voting bloc within the RPT means that those Latino Republican candidates and organizations that want to move up in the ranks will remain powerless–not a cohesive voting bloc to support any demands within the Party. Thus, this vacuum of a strong Latino voting bloc within the RPT also leaves Latino Republicans and organizations powerless and with no leverage to make demands when rules of the Party are created when conservative  groups and “establishment” seek control of the Party.

There are some “auxiliary” Hispanic organizations (4) in Texas that are often neglected by the RPT. This neglect is attributed to lack of funding, but is also from the fact that Latinos do not have a cohesive voting bloc within the GOP. Therefore, most of these groups are mere symbolism for PR purposes. These groups are neglected for many reasons,  but the fact is that they will only get the attention from the Party when and until they have big bloc of Latino voters within the Party. In order to this, they must make some structural changes which will give them the strength to ask the Party to fund voter Registration, or ask some elected official to refrain from making insensitive remarks about issues important to Latinos.

It is no surprise that the RPT often neglects Latino voters.  The  RPT operates like any other entity whose main goal is to protect those who control the Party. And even if the chairman of the RPT, Steve Munisteri who is a very savvy Party boss, agrees on the need to reach out the Latinos to make the Party stronger for the future, his power is limited since his role is to protect to those who control the Party and those who elected him, the same ones who may still have “cultural bias” against Latinos Running in the primaries.

In the 2010 and 2012 primaries, there was a “built-in bias” against Latino Republican candidates with a Latino surname running for statewide position. This “built-in bias” was possible because Latinos did not and still do not have a strong showing of Latino voters in Republican primaries. Therefore, our candidates are easily pushed out by those who control the primary process for statewide positions. Consequently, the only way that  Chairman Munisteri could have a real chance to reach out, and make the argument to those who elected him and may oppose bringing in Latinos, is if Latinos would become a big voting bloc in the GOP; but this will require massive registration, and hence the structural problems that Latino GOP organizations need to overcome.

When the RNC came out with Growth and Opportunity Project Report, it concluded that Republicans needed to talk to the community and solve the issue of immigration. At the same time, Sen. Rubio led the effort in the Senate for an immigration bill that reflected the goals of RNC report. But unfortunately we had our own senators, aided by groups like Heritage Foundation, who do not want Latinos to be part of the Republican Party, misinforming conservative voters about this bill. As a result, we ended up with the Republican Party in Texas having a harsher view on immigration than we did at the begging of the year.  This can only change when Latinos become more active in the primary process in Texas. In sum, Latinos bear the responsibility.

Most primaries get around 1.4 million voters, from which 650,000 elect the winner who will go on to the general elections. If Latinos were to have network of at least 300,000 voters, a cohesive bloc with those who have similar views on issues, Latinos can easily be holding power of the selection process in the primaries. Cubans in Florida have a strong bloc of voters called the  “super voters” who show up in every election. These “super voters” hold influence over the candidates in Florida, specifically in Republican politics.   Latinos in Texas need this network of a voting bloc to carry our candidates beyond the primaries. But means many other groups will be unhappy when they have to relinquish their power, but this is the only alternative for Latinos if they want any real influence in this civil war within the GOP.  In the end, it is all about the struggle for power which means controlling voter turnout, voter mobilization, and informing the voter about the issues. And this is why Republicans candidates fear conservative Tea Party groups, they mobilize voters in the primaries. Latinos Republican organizations should learn from them.

In 2012, numbers varied  but the Latino vote in Texas was between 400,000 and 600,000. Thus, Latino GOP organizations that seek to maximize the small vote will have to start treating the primaries– where a vote is 5-times greater–as if it was the general’s elections. By maximize their share in the primaries these groups will have more appeal and clout with Republican candidates running in statewide races.

Latino Republican groups and organizations should start to encourage people to vote in the primaries, and to register to vote so they can have leverage with the Party apparatus. Lack of Latino voters will be an obstacle for the groups to get political clout, since they will have no power in any election nor will they be able to pick candidates.  Should this continue, Latinos will continue to be neglected by the party apparatus and other groups.

The only way that Latinos can take the Party back to the W. Bush message is by electing Latino Candidates who will take the Party back to that message.  Consequently, this will only happen when Latinos become a cohesive voting bloc in the Republican primaries in 2014, thereby preparing for 2016.

How Attorney General Greg Abbott–who is running for governor with a strong tea party message but also is wooing Latinos–does with Latino voters will give an indication where the Latino vote is moving-in Texas-Gov. Perry received 38 percent of the Latino vote in 2010. As for the Senate in Texas, it will be interesting to see if Latinos can cast a payback vote for Sen. John Cornyn, who voted against the Immigration Bill in the Senate, and opt for a more less well known candidate like Linda Vega in the March primary. Therefore, in 2014, we will see if GOP candidates like Abbott can bring the Latino vote to the Perry years (38%), or whether they will push the Latino vote to even lowers numbers than 2012, about 30%.

The Latino voice needs to be as strong as that of other conservative groups like that of the Tea Party and Evangelicals, if they hope to have any influence in this “civil war,” and take part in the party when the rules a drafted.   The Party is not going to embrace the W. Bush years until they are reminded of that message that included all groups in the party.

The numbers are on their side, but the GOP needs to activate the voters in the primaries.

Alex Gonzalez  is a political Analyst and Political Director for Latinos Ready To Vote!  He received a Bachelors Degree and a Masters’ Degree, with emphasis in American politics,  from San Francisco State University.
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