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Romney skates over Republican Party's Hispanic dilemma

Romney skates over Republican Party's Hispanic dilemma
3 Mar 2016 – 09:03 PM EST
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Mitt Romney Crédito: AP

By David Adams @dadams7308

Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had tough words on Thursday for his party’s 2016 front-runner, Donald Trump, in what analysts have described as a last-ditch effort to derail the seemingly unstoppable campaign of the New York property tycoon.

For all his dire warnings about the disastrous consequences of Trump’s candidacy, the former Massachusetts governor, who is considered a moderate establishment Republican, had little to say about the concerns of the nation’s 50 million Hispanics.

To be sure, Romney castigated Trump for making “scapegoats” of Mexican immigrants. But he had no criticism of Trump’s insistence on making Mexico pay for a border “wall” to replace the current fence, his plan to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants on his first day as president, or his attacks on so-called “anchor babies.”

Instead, Romney dedicated the bulk of his speech to university students in Utah to what he called Trump’s misguided economic and foreign policies, as well as his bankruptcies and even his alleged sexual exploits during the Vietnam War.

Hispanic experts and activists contacted by Univision said Romney’s remarks failed to sufficiently address the damage done to the Republican Party by Trump’s disparaging comments about undocumented immigrants.

“This was a missed opportunity. The existential threat facing the Republican Party is not Donald Trump, it’s how are they going to recruit and represent a fast-changing America,” said Ali Noorani, director of the National Immigration Forum, a leading immigration advocacy group in Washington.

“At the end of the day whoever is running for president needs to understand and speak to Hispanics as the fastest growing electorate in the country.”

Others were not totally surprised by Romney’s ignoring Hispanics, saying the Republican Party establishment was so distracted by the campaign quandary of how to stop Trump, that it had lost sight of fixing its disconnect with Hispanic voters.

“I believe Governor Romney was speaking to the base of Republican primary voters, which does not include a large Latino electorate,” said Arturo Vargas, director of the NALEO Educational Fund, a non-profit advocating Latino participation in politics.

Full poll results here

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Romney pide a republicanos no votar por Trump

Indeed, the Republican Party is falling further behind in the contest for Hispanic voters, endangering its electoral chances in November, according to a poll published last week by Univision and The Washington Post.

If the party was to nominate Trump as its presidential candidate, support among Hispanic voters would fall to a historic low of only 16% in a hypothetical contest versus Democrat front-runner Hillary Clinton, the poll found.

The conventional wisdom among political strategists is that the Republican candidate needs to attract at least 30-40% of the Hispanic vote to have a decent chance at winning the general election. In the poll, only Florida Senator Marco Rubio was competitive against Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, obtaining a high of 33%.

A now famous “autopsy” by the Republican National Committee after the 2012 election defeat recognized that the party had a demographic problem with minorities as the country grew more diverse. In 2012 Romney won only 27% of the Hispanic vote, according to an analysis of exit polls by the Pew Hispanic Center. During the campaign Romney notoriously advocated making the lives of immigrants living illegally in the United States more difficult so they would “self-deport.”

Noorani said Republicans clearly had not learned the lessons of 2012. “I think someone is going to have to write an autopsy of the autopsy,” he said.

“The ‘autopsy’ … was clear and accurate: The Republican approach to immigration is doing lasting and possibly irreparable damage to the GOP’s chances of occupying the White House," said Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, a Chicago Democrat and chairman of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. "The road to the White House runs through Latino, immigrant, and Asian neighborhoods – and that is even more clear today than it was in 2012,” he added.

Some Republican leaders, led by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush , have expressed concern the party’s outreach to Hispanics. Bush, who speaks Spanish and is married to a Mexican, dropped out of the race after a poor showing in South Carolina and has publicly lamented the tone of other candidates, especially Trump, over Hispanic immigration.

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La "biculturalidad" de Jeb Bush pieza clave para conseguir el voto hispano

On Thursday Romney launched a full-scale attack on almost everything Trump stands for, except their mutual dislike for Obama’s healthcare reform, known as Obamacare, and the reality TV star’s insistence on the need for American companies to bring jobs back from China and Japan.

“His domestic policies would lead to recession. His foreign policies would make America and the world less safe,” said Romney. “He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president. And his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill,” he added.

While all that might be true, Romney appeared not to understand the enormity of the damage done to his party by failing to address Hispanic concerns, said Jose Fernandez, former Under-Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs during president Barack Obama’s first administration.

“What’s happening here is that the Republicans still don’t realize they have created a monster,” said Fernandez . The Republican Party "is no longer the melting pot, it’s about keeping ingredients out of the melting pot. The lid is on.”

However, Hispanic immigrants themselves were partly to blame, Fernandez said. “They (Republicans) can get away with it because we don’t vote,” he lamented, noting that voter turnout among Hispanics is under 50% on average.

“It will be up to Hispanics to either forgive and forget, or make them pay at the polls,” he said.