Martinez: Embrace natural allies

November 13, 2012 

There’s a treasure trove of demographic data showing that ethnic minorities and women voted for President Barack Obama in a big way. But here’s the most telling statistic, demonstrating why Republicans will continue to lose presidential elections if they stay put as the Grand Old White Party.

In 1984, Ronald Reagan earned 64 percent of the white vote and won in a landslide. Last week, Mitt Romney won 60 percent of the white vote and lost convincingly.

So what are Republicans to do about this striking demographic dilemma?

Simple, they need to reach out beyond their white, conservative base.

But asking many Republicans to look beyond their core support group is like asking Democrats to craft a budget based on existing revenues. It’s just not in their political nature.

If Republicans are to avoid permanent minority party status, they need ethnic minorities.

In truth, Hispanics are their only realistic option. The GOP has isolated African-Americans to such a degree that it’s regarded as akin to ethnic treason for black voters to be Republican. Political correctness will force the GOP to seek the black vote, but peace will come to the Middle East before Republicans come close to parity with Democrats among blacks.

Asians represent an opportunity for the GOP, but there isn’t yet a critical mass of voters to provide Republicans an immediate return on outreach. That will change. It’s estimated that Asians have surpassed Hispanics as the largest ethnic group immigrating to the United States, and most of that immigration is legal.

That leaves Hispanics, which means Republicans must grapple with immigration reform.

A few have already begun. The demographic message delivered last week has led conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer and broadcaster Sean Hannity to reconsider their enforcement-only positions. On cue, their shift has been roundly criticized by fellow conservatives, who cite such “political evolution” as the source of Tuesday’s defeat..

Mr. Krauthammer and Mr. Hannity, welcome to my world.

I left the Republican Party, not because of its immigration stance but because its leaders refuse to listen. Too many Republicans equate listening with capitulation. For me, immigration reform embodies conservative economic policy. But try having that conversation with a Republican who can’t get past the “what part of ‘illegal’ don’t you understand?” argument.

So far I’ve been unable to convince Republicans that listening does not require them to abandon principle. Holding on to a principle is not inherently virtuous. Principles, like one’s conscience, must be informed, and require deliberation.

Democrats are just as guilty of failing to deliberate. I’ve often mentioned to liberal friends that despite their objection to displaying the 10 Commandments in government buildings, the principles behind the commandments are the essence of social justice policy, particularly for women and children. I’ve asked them if their objection would be as intense if similar edicts were issued by a secular, left-leaning source. In other words, can’t their blind adherence to the separation of church and state “evolve”?

If Republicans choose to engage minorities, the engagement must be meaningful. It’s not good enough to wait until election time and then send successful Hispanics around the country to tell their rags to riches stories. It’s the time in-between that matters.

No Republican has done a better job engaging Hispanics than former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. This is a guy who has been elected twice in a state with a huge Hispanic population. He’s written, “Immigration Wars: Forging An American Solution,” which is scheduled for release in the spring. That book should be on the nightstand of every Republican who wants the party to be relevant and growing.

The good news for Republicans is that they control their own destiny. They can learn to listen and embrace new voices – or preach to an ever-shrinking piece of America.

Contributing columnist Rick Martinez (rickjmartinez2@gmail.com) is news director at WPTF, NC News Network and SGRToday.com

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