When Rick Santorum made his statement about Blacks on welfare, he touched a familiar nerve among its traditional voting base. In a room of largely white voters in a State with an African-American population of virtually zero, Santorum said, “I do not want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money, I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.”
With heads nodding in approval, applause even, Santorum appealed to a stereotype long perpetuated and successfully applied to win over white voters throughout the South, where it would be difficult to find an institution more despised than the GOP.
Yet the growing demographic power of Latinos in key states, particularly Texas, makes it obvious to anyone who can see beyond their nose that the GOP cannot sustain this tactic for much longer. Meg Whitman ran for governor of California as a centrist and it wasn’t until her campaign ran into the issue of immigration that she was derailed. In an election season ripe for her ascendance, and in a stunning example of political tone-deafness by her advisers, Whitman turned to Pete Wilson for help on the issue. Its not necessary to go through the Prop 187 episode here, but asking Pete Wilson for advice on immigration in California is like asking Dina Lohan for advice on parenting.
Similarly, Sharon Angle ran for Senate in Nevada in an election she had no business losing, but once again, the potency of white angst was too much for her clueless advisors to resist, not to mention her clearly deficient leadership capabilities.
The Republicans are still stuck in the past, and if they are to expand their appeal the GOP will have to own up to its past. Latinos have been waiting for some coherent message from the GOP and this week there was an indicator that message would come. The Republican Party announced that Bettina Inclán would head the Hispanic outreach effort of the Republican National Committee. However, on that same day, Mitt Romney boasted about the endorsement of Kris Kobach, one of the main architects of the waves of anti-immigrant legislation around the country, including Arizona’s infamous SB1070.
While Inclán has some experience within the Party structure there’s no evidence they will listen to her. The mixed messaging coming from the Party with the announcement of Kobach’s endorsement demonstrates a decided lack of consciousness about the sentiments of Latinos. Perhaps Inclán can change that. She will need to work hard to gain the trust of Hispanics rather than just repeat the Party line. Whether or not the GOP will allow her to do that is another question.
Professor Stephen A. Nuño is an Assistant Professor at Northern Arizona University. He is currently writing a book on Republican outreach in the Latino community. You can visit his page at http://stephenanuno.com/