“Republicans face uphill battle in winning Hispanic vote,” stressed a recent headline in the Boston Globe.
In Cambridge for a conference and a board meeting for the Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy, it struck me that this tension been Latinos and the GOP is an old issue — one that has fluctuated in importance for at least the last one hundred years.
The Globe, New England’s premier paper, began with story of Congressman Henry Bonilla, a Republican who lost his Texas seat in 2006 due to the toxic GOP brand.
“If you don’t go out and bring more Hispanics to our party, the math isn’t there to win, no matter what the other side does,” Bonilla is quoted as saying.
The importance of courting Latinos certainly has grown along with the community’s voting strength, but the tension between Hispanics and the GOP is not new.
In states like New Mexico, with a four hundred year history of civic engagement, Hispanics were “Abe Lincoln Republicans” up until the 1930s. At which they became mostly “Franklin Roosevelt Democrats” and then fans of John and Robert Kennedy.
Ever since the 1936 realigning presidential campaign, the Republican Party has struggled to woo back Hispanics, in part because the ever-growing community has included new immigrants and their children who tended to be working-class in their outlook and thus closer to the Democrats.
The GOP did enjoy some success under Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan, as well as with the two Bushes. The lesson from those efforts is that the GOP did not engage in anti-immigrant rants; instead they reached out to the faith community, small businesses and veteran groups with a positive agenda.