Archive for 2012

GOP Latino Fail: Party Ignored Stu Spencer’s Advice

Friday, August 31st, 2012

We’re pleased to tell our faithful Calbuzzers that this piece, originally published Oct. 3, 2011, was just named the winner of the Blog Reporting category in the 18th Annual California Journalism Awards, sponsored by the Center for California Studies at California State University, Sacramento and the Sacramento Press Club.  After seeing and hearing Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and the rest of the Republican Party handle the issue of immigration, we think it’s as much on point for the national GOP as it is for the California party.

It’s been almost fifteen years since Stuart Spencer, one of the wisest and longest-serving Republican consultants on the planet, sent a memo to leaders of his party warning the GOP was in danger of committing “political suicide” and condemning itself to “permanent minority status in California” because of its relationship to Latinos.

In a Nov. 26, 1997 memo titled “Wake-up Call for GOP,” the most important adviser and manager in Ronald Reagan’s political ascendancy, pleaded eloquently for his party to support San Mateo County Supervisor Ruben Barrales for Treasurer. But the memo had a much broader mission, with Spencer warning, “We are dramatically losing market share of the fastest growing segment of the electorate . . . The stakes are too high for us to act like political ostriches and ignore the challenges we face.”

With the California Republican Party, under the leadership of Tom Del Beccaro now making an effort to reach out to Latinos, it would appear, at first glance, that party leaders finally are following Spencer’s advice.

“The dynamic today is that we have a single point of discussion in this country between Republicans and Latinos, which is immigration,” Del Beccaro said recently. “As important as that is, so are jobs, so is education and so are public safety. And the fact that we don’t have ongoing discussions with them on these other categories is our fault and what needs to change.”

All well and good. But appearances can be deceiving.

After Prop. 187 in 1994 (seeking to deny virtually all government benefits to illegal immigrants) and the GOP’s fervent opposition to any sort of pathway by which illegal immigrants can become legal residents, the time has passed when it will suffice to talk – as Spencer advised — about “jobs, taxes, government regulation, education, public safety and the importance of family.”

Now, until the California Republican Party alters its stance on that “single point of discussion” and offers something beyond round-‘em-up-and-ship-‘em home, Latino voters won’t even hear their message on everything else. For most Latino voters, immigration, and especially a pathway to citizenship, is a threshold issue.

“That is the measuring stick,” Spencer told Calbuzz the other day in a phone call from Palm Desert. “It’s immigration. They want to know what the rules are. The majority of Mexican-Americans want a solid immigration program that’s fair.”

We asked Spencer if it’s possible for the GOP even to be heard on other issues until it comes up with a plan to provide a path to citizenship for Latinos living and working here illegally. “Maybe in other parts of the country,” he said, “but not in the Southwest, not in California.”

“Our party has a sad (and politically self-defeating) history of alienating immigrant groups and new voters,” Spencer wrote in his 1997 memo. “The GOP closed the door to Irish and Italian immigrants in Massachusetts and New York in the last century. We did the same to Poles and other Eastern Europeans in Chicago and other urban centers. We did it again to Asian-Americans in Hawaii. It is hard to believe but Massachusetts, Hawaii, Chicago and many other places that are among the most Democrat in the country were once Republican. We cannot allow the home of Ronald Reagan and the largest state in the Union to befall the same fate and become a permanent Democrat bastion.”


What happened in 1998?

First, as George Skelton of the LA Times reported at the time, “The state Republican chairman, Irvine attorney Michael Schroeder, tartly responded that ‘Stu Spencer is a bit out of touch with California politics.’ The old warrior probably didn’t know about the party’s ‘Hispanic Summit’ in September, Schroeder asserted.” [Which of course he did.]

Then, after Barrales was already in the race, Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle of Orange County, decided he wanted to run for Treasurer. Barrales could see he’d have to battle a well-connected GOP leader for the nomination, so he dropped out of that race – where the seat was open — and ran for Controller against incumbent Democrat Kathleen Connell – a much more daunting prospect.

Spencer wrote another letter, in May 1998, urging support for Barrales in the Controller’s race.  But the GOP brand had been so tarnished by Pete Wilson and Prop. 187 – and the party had done nothing to mend fences or genuinely reach out to Latino voters — that they were now beyond reach.

How far beyond reach? Attorney Gen. Dan Lungren, at the top of the GOP ticket in the governor’s race, took a pathetic 17% of the Latino vote, compared to Lt. Gov. Gray Davis who took 78% of Latinos, Voter News Service reported. In addition, Pringle lost to Democrat Phil Angelides (53-40% overall) and Barrales lost to Connell (61-33% overall), running behind  statewide GOP registration which was 35% at that time.

When newly-elected Gov. Davis visited Mexico City on a fence-mending mission shortly after taking office in 1999, reporters on the streets of the Mexican capital heard former Gov. Pete Wilson referred to as hijo de puta.

Things have gotten no better since. According to a survey by Republicans Marty Wilson and Bob Moore, one-third of Latino voters say they would never vote for a Republican and another 30% say they might vote Republican if the GOP moves to the center or nominates less conservative candidates.

Two-thirds of all Latino voters, including 51% of Latino Republicans, say people who have entered the country illegally should be given a pathway to become citizens.

“The GOP candidate is not going to win many Latino voters by emphasizing conservatism,” the authors advised.

But that is exactly what Republicans have been doing — doubling down on English-only, a border fence to keep out the Mexicans, no path to citizenship for the undocumented, no higher-education benefits for children here illegally, stop-and-question laws for suspected illegals and more.

“Republicans have to demonstrate that immigrants are an important part of American life,” Barrales, who served as Deputy Assistant to President George W. Bush and Director, Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and now is CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, told us. “Unless you demonstrate that you’re appreciative and sensitive to the Latino community, I don’t think you’re going to get much further.”

In addition to a global shift in attitude and rhetoric, Barrales added, “You’ve got to address immigration. It’s the issue that Spanish language media focus on. It’s a fundamental issue in the Latino community. You can lead with jobs and the economy but you’ve got to be able to address the issue of immigration.”

Until then, despite all the outreach on jobs, education and public safety, the California Republican Party will continue to act, as Spencer put it, “like political ostriches.”

Romney to Voters: I DO Have a Heart (No, Really!)

Monday, August 27th, 2012

In the next few days, the Republicans gathered in Tampa will try to convince voters that they are a freedom-loving, fiscally responsible political party, not, as the Democrats contend, America’s nativist, transvaginal Taliban. This is what they mean when they talk about “re-branding.”

Their success will depend in part on a) the weather, since fewer nights of broadcasts will require (and permit) triage on their more extreme speakers and b) what the MSM focuses on and whether they measure the GOP’s rhetoric against reality.

Mitt Romney’s mission, the Beltway geniuses tell us, is to “re-introduce” himself to the American people, as if he hasn’t had the chance in the five-plus years he’s been running for president. This is what they mean when they talk about his “Etch-a-Sketch Moment.”

Romney, and his anti-abortion purist running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan would like to get the MSM to talk only about their message of lower taxes, reduced regulation and economic liberty, without regard to how those taxes might redistribute wealth to the rich, unchain polluters or throw public employees and industrial workers back to the 19th Century.

The Real Death Panel

If you take a drink every time the words “repeal Obamacare” are spoken, you will be blotto before the first commercial. But don’t expect anyone to take the podium to declare that repealing Obamacare would do away with provisions that allow 26-year-olds to remain on their parents’ insurance policies, or that coverage could again be denied to people with pre-existing conditions (like cancer or pregnancy), or that the RR Plan is actually to give Medicare eligible people a voucher to buy insurance on an unregulated private market.

The Medicare death panel is not something Ryan, Sarah Palin and others conjured up to poison public opinion about the Affordable Health Care Act. The Romney-Ryan ticket is the Medicare death panel.

You can also get plastered downing a shot when Romney, Ryan and probably every other speaker mentions Obama’s $716 cut from Medicare payments to over-charging hospitals and under-performing insurance companies (which the Ryan budget supported). It’s as much of a distortion as charging that Obama eliminated work-for-welfare requirements. But the MSM seems unconcerned about allowing lies to go unchallenged.

Another problem the Republicans have is that while Romney has been on all sides of the abortion issue – pro-choice when running for governor or Massachusetts, anti-choice when seeking the GOP presidential nomination –  his running mate Ryan and U.S. Rep. Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin of Missouri and the Republican Party’s official platform are, in fact, in 100% agreement about abortion.

As the GOP platform says: “Faithful to the first guarantee of the Declaration of Independence, we assert the inherent dignity and sanctity of all human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and we endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children. We oppose using public revenues to promote or perform abortion and will not fund organizations which advocate it. We support the appointment of judges who respect traditional family values and the sanctity and dignity of innocent human life. . . At its core, abortion is a fundamental assault on the sanctity of innocent human life.”

Or, as Ryan put it just last week: “I’ve always adopted the idea, the position, that the method of conception doesn’t change the definition of life.” Rape? Incest? Life of the mother? Fugetaboutit. (If you believe that a human being is formed at the moment of conception and you are committed to protecting innocent life, then opposing abortion under any circumstance is your pure, logical, moral stance. Of course, you also have to believe that the fetus is innocent and the mother is not.) So far right has the GOP lurched on abortion that even former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist was driven into the arms of Obama (even though Romney says he’d allow abortion in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother).

This is just one of the reasons that President Obama leads Romney by 8-12 percentage points among women (btw: Democrats almost always do better among women and worse among men). Since the GOP poobahs have excoriated “Legit Rape” Akin, it will be fun to see what kind of play the Republicans give to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and other Akin defenders during their convention.

If the Romney campaign wants to appeal to suburban women – including pro-choice Republican women – they’ll use the weather-shortened agenda to kick some of the more vociferous “pro-life” speakers out of prime time and beg the major networks to ignore the pro-life screamers.

Not Just a Failure to Communicate

We know, however, that they’ll keep a spotlight on Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida because they’d like to draw some votes from the Hurricane Sunshine State and from Latinos for Romney and Ryan. Trouble is, their problems with Floridians (i.e. retirees) and Latinos aren’t cosmetic – they’re fundamental.

In the recent NBC-Wall Street Journal Poll, for example, respondents leaned 2-to-1 against the Romney-Ryan idea of a “guaranteed payment” or voucher to pay for senior medical care versus keeping Medicare as we know it. This is not a “failure to communicate” – it’s a seriously unpopular idea among a huge swath of voters.

Nor can Rubio patch things up with the eight or nine in 10 Latino voters who favor some path to citizenship for undocumented workers when the GOP platform (in a position wholly in synch with Romney’s views) says flatly: “We oppose amnesty. The rule of law suffers if government policies encourage or reward illegal activity.” Among Latino voters, the GOP (and Romney’s) refusal to consider a path to legal status for illegals disqualifies him from consideration.

In their attempts to portray themselves as a “big tent” party, the Romney folks might even allow an openly gay or lesbian speaker to reach the podium. But they won’t likely highlight the platform provision that says: “Because our children’s future is best preserved within the traditional understanding of marriage, we call for a constitutional amendment that fully protects marriage as a union of a man and a woman, so that judges cannot make other arrangements equivalent to it. In the absence of a national amendment, we support the right of the people of the various states to affirm traditional marriage through state initiatives.”

Romney has a big challenge in “re-introducing” himself: in the recent NBC-WSJ poll, Obama led him by 28 points on dealing with issues of concern to women, by 22 points on caring about average people, by 12 points on dealing with issues concerning seniors and by 11 points on being honest and straight-forward. Moreover, the survey found 54% said Obama is in the mainstream and 44% said he’s out of step, compared to 44% who said Romney is in the mainstream and 51% who said he’s out of step.

One way Romney may try to connect with average folk will likely be make some mention of his Mormon religion in order to create the impression that he’s confronted some of the gnarly issues (like his grandfather’s plural marriages, the church’s historic racism, the role of women in the church, etc.) that attend the LDS faith. But you can expect this will be 100% superficial and largely unconvincing (especially to evangelicals who consider Mormonism a “cult” but who hate Obama even more).

So the fallback will be an attempt to build on his 6-point advantage among those who say he has good ideas to improve the economy, his 13-point edge over Obama on managerial skills and his 6-point lead on the issue of changing business as usual in Washington.

It was Ralph Whitehead at the University of Massachusetts who years ago taught us that Americans are looking for a president with a hard head and a soft heart. Which is why the GOP will try, in the next few days, to show that something is beating inside Romney’s breast.