This post originally appeared on NBCLatino.
It’s no secret that the Republican Party has a serious problem with immigration. But in this instance I’m talking about their problem with Latinos migrating out of their own party. Republicanos are trading in the elephant for the donkey, or at the very least going without a party vehicle.
This week a high-profile Latino Republican, the former head of Hispanic outreach for Florida’s RNC, publicly left the party. For Pablo Pantoja, the straw that broke the camel’s, or in this case the elephant’s, back was the Heritage Foundation’s anti-immigrant report and its co-author’s public defense of Latinos as a group having low IQ scores. In his public farewell letter Pantoja references the general harshness of the Republican rhetoric toward immigrants, then points to a specific racist exchange at this year’s Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), and concludes with a rejection of the likes of Dr. Jason Richwine (author of the Heritage study) as a voice for the GOP. To sum up his rationale, Pantoja simply states that his former party had resorted to “intolerance and hate.”
He’s not the first and he won’t be the last.
Another high-profile Republican departure occurred close to two years ago, half way across the country in Arizona. Dee Dee Garcia Blase had helped establish the Somos Republicans, a national organization for Latino Republicans based out of Arizona. But in the wake of Arizona’s S.B. 1070 she also publicly rejected her party. Though a fiscal and social conservative, she simply could not synthesize the GOP’s anti-immigrant rhetoric into her politics. So she left the Republican Party and Somos Republicans and became officially “unaffiliated.” Not too long after her departure the organization itself, Somos Republicans, took a similar route, officially abandoned the GOP and became Somos Independents.
The departures of Pantoja and Garcia Blase made the headlines because they were public partisan figures. However, thousands of other Latinos have taken the same path of migrating out of the GOP. Their decision is just not public, but rather taken in the privacy of a voting booth.
The out migration is especially stark when we compare the most recent presidential election with George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election. The 2004 election was the Republican Latino high water mark. At that time half of Latinos identified as being Democrats, 27 percent Republican, and 24 percent Independent. Democrats clearly were the preferred party of Latinos, but slightly more than half did not identify as Democrats. Moreover, in his re-election, Bush received 40 percent of the Latino vote.
Fast forward to President Obama’s re-election. In 2012 the percentage of Latinos identifying as Democrats jumped to 57 percent and the number of Republicans decreased by half with only 14 percent of Latinos claiming a GOP affiliation. The group that had the least movement was Independents or those unaffiliated. In 2012 they rose to 29 percent. But the biggest shift came in presidential vote choice, with Romney receiving only 27 percent of the Latino vote.
The correlation between the GOP’s Latino communications and outreach strategy is linear. The harsher and more racially negative the messaging, the fewer Latinos will stand by your label and vote for you. It’s not a complicated concept.
The Republican National Committee has publicly discussed its intention to not just retain but actively recruit Latinos. However, mixed messaging will not staunch the migration. Being a Latino-friendly party will require all segments of the party, not just the moderate ones, to put aside harsh rhetoric, or what Pablo Pantoja pointed to as intolerance. No one wants to stick around where they’re not welcome.