As the Republican nomination circus rolls through cyberspace, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Yesterday, Donald Trump reposted a tweet with a variety of anti-Latino images featuring rival presidential candidate Jeb Bush posing with his Mexican-born wife and wearing a photo-shopped mariachi outfit. The retweet included the following caption, “ADIOS, JEB aka JOSÉ.”
I love the reference to “José,” the standard Mexican slur. That’s a good one, Mr. Trump. Very original.
Actually, the 2016 presidential race is starting to get interesting for Latinos.
Republicans continue to dismiss the fastest growing voter bloc in the country. To satisfy the Racist Right, new Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has already announced that comprehensive immigration reform will never see the light of day. The party doesn’t have the courage to refute Trump’s racist taunts. Same old you know what, different day.
On the other hand, Democrats remain strategically quiet on immigration reform. They appear supportive, but the support is lukewarm at best. None of the candidates for president has made reform a cornerstone of their campaigns. We might be subject to another election cycle when the latte liberal left takes Latinos for granted because the other side is so terrible for us.
There are some interesting developments that may put Latinos in the driver’s seat of the 2016 presidential race.
If the wacky base of the GOP comes to its senses and figures out that someone who has never served in public office would be a disaster for our country, the party’s best chance to win in November just may be a Latino, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. The Bush team calls him “the GOP Obama.” It was meant to be an insult, but that could be bad for Democrats. Remember, President Obama is undefeated in presidential elections.
Latinos are a large voting bloc in the states with a bunch of the Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency: California, Florida, Texas, Illinois, and New York. Experts believe that Republicans need to win at least 40% of the Latino vote for a chance to win. President George W. Bush has been the only Republican able to poll those kinds of numbers since Latinos have emerged as a key voting bloc.
Only 18% of Latino registered voters are Republican. That means all registered GOP Latino voters have to cast a vote for their party’s nominee and over 20% of registered Democrats and independents have to crossover for a Republican to win. If Republican Latinos vote against their party for any reason, the GOP has big problems.
However, if the bilingual Sen. Rubio gets the Republican nomination and moderates his stance on immigration reform, the Democrats could be in trouble. He could saturate the Spanish language airwaves in his own voice to woo Latino independents and some conservative Democrats. This could be enough to get to the elusive 40% the GOP needs to secure a home at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
So what does this all mean? Latino voters have a shot to decide who will be the next President of the United States.
Let me explain.
Last week, a group of Latino GOP leaders made an ultimatum to the party. Stop disparaging the Latino community or else. The threat was directed to Mr. Trump, but it was clear that the demand could include others. Rosario Marin, the former Republican Treasurer of the United States, said, “Heed our warning, don’t expect us to come to your side during the general election…If you are not with us now, we will not be with you then.” These are tough words, indeed.
A Latino Republican rebellion could cause them to stay home on Election Day or vote Democrat. In both cases, the GOP has no chance to win. Of course, this probably won’t happen if the group of influential Latino Republican leaders gets its way or if Sen. Rubio is the nominee
If the GOP gets its act together and heeds Ms. Marin’s warning, things could get awfully close in the General Election next fall. In that case, Latino Democrats have to come out in big numbers for the Democratic nominee to prevail.
That brings us to the Democrats.
The Democratic Party historically has been favorable to Latino issues, but only as a sideshow. Let’s be honest, the party has taken the Latino vote for granted since the “Viva Kennedy” campaign in 1960. For more than a half century, we’ve been a loyal and automatic yes vote for the Democratic ticket.
President Obama’s 2008 campaign promise for comprehensive immigration reform took a back seat during his administration, yet Latinos voted for him overwhelmingly in 2012. Our community can’t let the Dems slide anymore. This time is different. The Democratic Party needs Latinos.
I tip my cap to former Treasurer Marin and her cohorts for having the courage to tell the GOP the way it’s going to be. If their party listens, it has a chance to win back the White House.
Latino Democratic leaders should take a cue from their Republican counterparts and let the party know that we no longer want to be relegated to the back seat. Comprehensive immigration reform is our issue. It crosses party lines. People need to safely come out of the shadows, families need to stay together. If the Democratic ticket won’t make this issue the centerpiece of its platform, Latinos should consider staying home next November.
Then, as we Latinos like to say, “Let’s see what happens.”