Latino Republicans: A Political Anomaly

As the Republican Party gears up to take on the President in 2012, more and more the party is beginning to court the Latino vote. Republicans are targeting Latinos not only because they’re a powerful minority set to become the majority in our lifetime, but also because they’re more likely to vote Republican than African-Americans are.

While Latinos are a diverse group comprised of various racial-ethnic, historical and cultural backgrounds, they do share common political goals. Historically, Latinos have adopted a wide range of conservative political policies. (They helped elect George W. Bush in 2000 and helped reelect him in 2004.) As Alfonso Aguilar of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles has suggested, “Latinos are inherently conservative: They’re socially conservative; they are entrepreneurial; they’re pro-business.” While I wouldn’t go so far as to label Latinos as “inherently conservative,” I agree with the factors Aguilar cites. Latinos are traditionally a socially conservative but fiscally liberal group: they support Republican moral policies and Democratic spending.

For instance, most Latinos are pro-life. The reasons behind this are no secret: Latinos are predominantly Catholic. Recent polling, however, shows that support for legal abortion is a generational issue within the Latino community, with most of the opposition toward abortion coming from the first generation.

With Latino approval of the Obama administration hitting an all-time low in August (at just 41 percent), the Latino voting bloc may be looking to ditch the President and go with somebody new. Someone like Gov. Rick Perry might become an attractive candidate for many Latinos come November 2012.

Besides the obvious reasons — his softer stance on immigration reform and his governorship of a state that is 38 percent Latino, receiving 31 percent of that vote in 2010 — Perry’s persona could make him a viable candidate among Latinos. While the left snickers at Perry’s cowboy attitude, many Latinos don’t see the joke. Sixty-six percent of all Latinos in the United States are Mexicans, many of whom come from a traditionally cowboy culture. (In fact, the Mexican vaquero formed the archetype for the American cowboy.)

Latinos, like many voters, elect politicians who do more and say little. Latinos, especially within the electorally-active first generation, are wary of grand intellectual debates, preferring more intuitive responses to issues. This brand of thinking was adopted by conservatives during the Bush II era; it’s what George W. meant when he referred to himself as a  “gut player” ; it’s what Stephen Colbert has termed “truthiness,”  something that feels true, whether it is or not. Rick Perry subscribes to truthiness. So do a lot of Latinos.

Many Latinos I know — close friends who are 20-somethings and undocumented — subscribe to much of the Republican ideology: pro-business, small government, individualism, traditional marriage, and so on. Even the members of my own family who come from another country have developed conservatives views on immigration control.

It’s a sad reality of the Latino community that the biggest obstacle to Latino progressivism has been Latino conservatism.

Still, studies consistently show that the Latino community is predominately Democratic, at least on Election Day. The Pew Hispanic Center reported in October 2010 that 65 percent of Latinos vote Democrat.

Many Latinos think like a Republican but vote like a Democrat. The key issue that keeps most Latinos voting for Democrats is immigration. Latinos, as with most Americans, believe that any fair reform to immigration policy will be made by Democrats.

But there are other reasons why Latinos don’t vote — and shouldn’t vote — for Republicans.

Republicans overwhelmingly support mass deportations. In fact, the average Republican voter is against immigration in general. In addition to their ethnocentric view of America, many conservatives fear a shrinking job market during the nation’s current economic slump.

Republicans, in principle, are opposed to social welfare programs, which many Latinos depend on as a disproportionately poor minority group. In Gov. Perry’s Texas, more than half of the poor population is Latino, and 40 percent of Latinos lack health insurance. Nationally, the median wealth of white households is 18 times that of Latino households, according to the Pew Research Center. And the wide educational achievement gap between Latinos and whites has yet to be adequately narrowed.

Perry may be fairer on immigration than the rest of the Republican field, but so too is Obama. For one, they’re not advocating the deportation of every one of the 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States like most of the Republican Party is. Plus, the Democrats are willing to do things for the country that Perry isn’t, like fix the criminal justice system, avoid war, and promote science.

Many Latinos may want to vote Republican next year. Hopefully they won’t.