Meet Ted Cruz.
In a lot of ways he’s just your typical Social Security-gutting, Sharia law-hyping, George Soros-is-coming-for-your-golf-course Tea Partier. But Cruz also unique in that he’s a Latino and a Republican. He joins Marco Rubio as one of the few nationally known Republicans who can speak Spanish without sounding patronizing.
After crushing establishment Republican David Dewhurst in the GOP primary, Cruz, whose father came from Cuba, became the first Latino senator from Texas on November 6, just as Mitt Romney scored the worst performance for a Republican nominee with Latinos since Bob Dole in 1996.
Many of the first assessments suggested that this dismal performance with a group that’s producing about 50,000 new voters a month cost Romney the election. That wasn’t true. Romney could have done 20 points better with Latinos and President Obama would still have won over 300 electoral votes.
But Cruz has diagnosed how the Republicans’ struggles with Latinos could end up destroying the party:
In not too many years, Texas could switch from being all Republican to all Democrat. If that happens, no Republican will ever again win the White House. New York and California are for the foreseeable future unalterably Democrat. If Texas turns bright blue, the electoral college math is simple. We won’t be talking about Ohio, we won’t be talking about Florida or Virginia, because it won’t matter. If Texas is bright blue, you can’t get to 270 electoral votes. The Republican Party would cease to exist.
With that realization very much cascading through the GOP, the party is eager to find any way they can to appeal to Latino voters. Many Republicans are softening their stands on immigration. Two outgoing senators are even offering a GOP version of the DREAM Act, which gives students and soldiers who were brought to the U.S. as children a chance to become citizens. Only the GOP’s ACHIEVE Act doesn’t have a path to citizenship and is probably less popular with Latino voters than even Mitt Romney.
Cruz addressed his diagnosis and treatment for this existential threat the GOP faces this week at a dinner hosted by the conservative group The American Principles Project.
“Do you want to know why Barack Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote?” Cruz asked. “The tone on immigration contributed. But I think far more important was 47 percent.”
“I cannot think of an idea more antithetical to the American principles,” Cruz added later.
Well, that would explain why Romney did so poorly with Latinos. But how about John McCain, who with 31 percent of the Latino vote did significantly worse than George W. Bush — who hit a GOP record of 40 percent Latino support in 2004?
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has said that the divisive immigration reform debate of 2006-2007 “built a wall” between the GOP and the Latino community.
But Cruz doesn’t think immigration reform is the answer to winning back Latino voters.
“Immigration matters, especially tone. No one is going to vote for you if they think you don’t like them,” he said.
But rather than relying on immigration, he said the party should focus on jobs and small business, two issues that poll very high for Latinos. The stress should be on mobility because the 47 percent comments are the symptom of a party that has done an “incredibly poor job articulating the message of opportunity.”
Cruz is suggesting, like most Republicans, that tone and messaging is the problem — because their ideas can never be blamed.
However, there’s a lot of evidence to show that Latinos just don’t like Republican ideas — 3 out of 4 support an expanded role of government. Latinos are also 9 percent more likely to call themselves “liberal” than Americans as a whole.
By virtue of his identity, Cruz has a tremendous platform in the Republican Party.
But two major questions are yet to be answered. Can he keep his deeply unpopular conspiratorial views quiet as he takes his place in the national discourse? And is a change in tone enough to win with ideas that Republicans are having a very hard time selling at the statewide and national levels?
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.com