With President Obama gone and Republicans controlling all three branches of government, a Latino has emerged as the de facto leader of the Democratic Party. The son of Dominican immigrants, Tom Pérez’s ascendancy in the Democratic Party is an important achievement for the entire Latino community.
As the Chairman of the Democratic Party, Pérez must lead a Democratic Party that has still not gotten over their stunning loss in the 2016 presidential election while figuring out a way to expand the electoral map to win in states and counties that voted for President Trump. A tall order that will require building bridges, making inroads and broadening the political tent to welcome more, not less, to the Democratic Party.
This is why it’s particularly odd that Tom Perez is choosing to issue a litmus test on what it means to be a Democrat. Evidently, according to Tom Pérez, this means supporting abortion rights.
"Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health," Tom Pérez said in a statement, according to the Huffington Post. "That is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state."
Did you catch that? Not negotiable - So much for welcoming others and being a big tent party.
The statement is problematic for a number of reasons, but particularly because the position on abortion for the first Latino chairman of the Democratic Party (or any major political party) is at odds with about half of the Latino population. A recent poll conducted by the well-respected polling company, found that around 49 percent of Hispanics polled said that abortion should be mostly illegal. African Americans polled are also slightly more conservative on this issue than the general population, with around 35% also saying that abortion should be illegal.
Those are pretty big numbers that Tom Perez either did not know about, or knows, but does not care about. For the sake of the Democratic Party, let’s hope that it is the former.
Pérez should know that religion is deeply important for many Latinos living in the United States. And while there is public polling suggesting that Latinos are becoming a lot more open to same-sex marriage, this trend has not translated over to abortion.
This must drive the abortion lobby mad that has spent millions over the past few years reaching out to Latinos. For all their efforts, the fact that roughly half of all Latinos oppose abortion must be incredibly disappointing.
Once upon a time, the Democratic Party was a lot more welcoming to those that opposed abortion but still identified as a Democrat. The Democratic Party has come a long way from the days when former president Bill Clinton described the position of the Democratic Party on abortion being “ safe, legal and rare.”
Those days are long gone if you think like Pérez, the current chairman. Since news broke of Pérez's controversial statements, a number of the leading Democratic Party leaders have tried to clean up the mess by expressing their support for pro-life Democrats. But the damage has been done. Instead of working to rebuild the Democratic Party from the bottom up and coast to coast, Pérez has been putting Democrats in the awkward position of having to defend his controversial views on abortion.
Latinos may have voted overwhelmingly for Secretary Hillary Clinton in the last presidential election, but Perez and others in the Democratic Party should not take their support for granted. This should extend to Latinos that oppose abortion and support life at all stages.
The first Latino chair for the Democratic Party is off to a rocky start, but that does not mean that he cannot recover from this forced error. But to do that, he will need to defy the powerful pro-abortion lobby groups and recommit himself to growing and expanding the Democratic Party to include all – including those that oppose abortion.