Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

How GOP can get right with Latinos

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN Contributor
March 1, 2013 -- Updated 2220 GMT (0620 HKT)
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
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT