Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

How GOP can get right with Latinos

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN Contributor
updated 5:20 PM EST, Fri March 1, 2013
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus conducted a three-state Western tour to scope out the Latino vote.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus conducted a three-state Western tour to scope out the Latino vote.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Reince Priebus went on Western tour to talk to Republicans about the Latino vote
  • Ruben Navarrette Jr.: Does Priebus understand how the GOP got off base with Latinos?
  • He asks what actions Priebus will take to make Hispanics feel welcomed in the party
  • Navarrette: GOP leaders should accept responsibility for their mistakes with Latinos

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette.

San Diego (CNN) -- After the epiphany that the GOP must -- for its own survival amid changing demographics -- learn to talk to Hispanics without offending them, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus made a smart move: He got out of Washington and headed to the Southwest.

It would have been nice if the light bulb had gone off for Priebus sometime before the November election since it might have helped make the contest for the Hispanic vote between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney more competitive, but it's better late than never.

This week, Priebus went on a three-state Western tour that took him to Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. In each city, he met with Republicans and got their take on how the GOP became "party non grata" with Hispanics.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

As it turns out, Republicans have also gradually lost the support of Asian-American voters. Here is a constituency that supported Republicans George H.W. Bush in 1992 and Robert Dole in 1996, and yet it has given a majority of its votes to Democrats in the last three presidential elections. In 2012, 73% of Asian-Americans voted for Obama.

For Hispanics, who represent a much greater share of the electorate than Asians, it was 71%.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Romney captured the second-lowest percentage of the Hispanic vote for a Republican -- 27% -- since we started keeping track. Only Dole fared more poorly, earning a meager 21%.

Cantor wants to give GOP a 'makeover'

Numbers this lopsided tend to get people's attention, and they certainly got the attention of Priebus. Hence, the tour -- on which, hopefully, the chairman did more listening than talking. I realize this doesn't come naturally to people in Washington, but it's critically important that it happened in this case.

Of course, Priebus was on the spot to provide an explanation for why most Hispanics now avoid Republicans like the plague. And naturally, he was going to be asked for his solution. But whom are we kidding? If the chairman knew any of that, the party would be in better shape, and he wouldn't have needed to go on tour.

Now that the tour is over, the questions remain. Does Priebus get it? Does he really understand how the Republican Party got sideways with Latino voters?

Borger: For GOP, it's about survival
GOP changing tone on immigration

This is key. If you can't diagnose the illness, there is no point in fumbling around for the cure. You'll never find it.

Beyond that, is he ready to assign the requisite amount of blame to fellow Republicans, and speak candidly about what went wrong and what he intends to do to make it right? And most importantly, what actions will he take to make Hispanics feel welcomed in the party and make feel unwelcomed anyone who exemplifies the anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic sentiment that parts of the Republican Party have become known for?

After the kickoff in Denver, Priebus told reporters that the low-key manner in which Republicans typically pursue Hispanic votes isn't working.

GOP chief plans major overhaul

"Showing up four months, five months ahead of time isn't going to cut it," he told reporters. "We have to build authentic, real relationships, and that takes time."

This is not a bad place to start. There is nothing wrong with building relationships. But we need to dig deeper, if we're going to figure what the Republicans are doing wrong with Hispanics -- and how they can try to make it right.

Some people aren't in the mood to dig. It's too much work. Priebus and other GOP officials will always be able to find Republican consultants and strategists who will pronounce the party's rapport with Hispanics to be generally healthy and insist that little needs changing.

That should be considered consultant malpractice. It's like a physician seeing a patient with cancer and telling him not to worry because he only has a slight cold. When there is bad news, people need to hear it straight.

And when it comes to how they've alienated Hispanics, Republican leaders such as Priebus need to hear it straight.

OK, here are some things Republicans are doing wrong:

• Many Republicans won't accept that they're doing anything wrong and prefer to blame Democrats and the media for portraying them as hostile to Hispanics;

• When they discuss immigration, many in the GOP depict new waves of immigrants as inferior to previous ones, less willing to assimilate and more likely to mooch off taxpayers;

• They are still too closely identified with the wealthiest sliver of Americans, and their objective seems to be to help the wealthy fend off the poor and working class before they can pilfer their stuff. Hispanics are more likely to identify with the poor and working class.

And here is what GOP leaders such as Priebus could do to start to make things right:

• Accept responsibility and understand that the GOP's brand didn't, for Latinos, become tarnished by accident;

• Change those party policies that need changing, and tune up the ones that don't while recruiting qualified and electable Latino Republicans to run for office;

• A little respect goes a long way; and the way you get respect from Hispanics is by publicly condemning by name those Republicans who stoke anti-Hispanic, anti-immigrant sentiment for short-term political benefit.

Mr. Chairman, if you do all that -- and act upon any other solid advice you might have received while on tour in the West -- you'll do your party a lot of good. If you don't, get ready to experience a lot more bad.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette Jr.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT