As a lifelong Republican who has created campaigns for mayors, governors, and Presidents, I've always been amazed at how well Latino and conservative values align. In my latest editorial for the San Antonio Express News, published on November 14, 2013, I explain why most Latinos are "really closet Republicans".
Here is the complete article, or click on the link above to read on the Express News web site:
Most Latinos really closet Republicans
By Lionel Sosa, For the Express-News
November 14, 2013
The other day, I ran into Pete Mendez, an old friend from my old West Side neighborhood. He was almost in tears. “Lionel, I can't believe it. My three adult children have become Republicans, and it's breaking my heart. Where did I go wrong?”
“Why do you think you went wrong?” I asked.
“Because they say I'm a Republican, too. A closet Republican.”
Actually, Mr. Pete's kids are right. Most Latinos are Republican; they just don't know it.
That observation isn't mine. It's Ronald Reagan's. Back in 1980 when I was hired to turn out the Latino vote for his successful presidential campaign, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Latinos are Republicans, and we need to let them know it. Latino values are conservative, and so are Republican values. We think alike. Our core conservative values are our bond.”
Reagan went on to win 37 percent of the Latino vote that year, and 20 years later George W. Bush won 44 percent of the vote, a record that still holds for Republicans in a presidential race. As my good friend Ed Speed observes, “It was Republican values that motivated the Latino migrant to take the risks to come here, take any job available, work to exhaustion and care for family both here and back home. These are not 'passive' traits. Immigrants are people who will work with all their might to convert hopeful dreams into life-improving reality. Anyone who uproots himself or herself from the status quo to seek a better life is a Reaganite!”
When you're a Republican Latino, you're traveling uphill on a lonely road. Still, it's the road I prefer. It has led me to opportunity far beyond my dreams. I've worked on eight Republican presidential races, as well as for some of the world's largest corporations, all because the doors of opportunity, not the doors of welfare, were open to me. And I'm staying on that road, even though it's ever lonelier, as so many Republicans, unduly influenced by the extreme right, disappoint us with the dumb things they say or do almost daily.
This isn't the first time the media and pundits have predicted the demise of the Republican Party. We've been in big trouble before. In 1964, Republican Barry Goldwater was clobbered by LBJ in one of the biggest landslides in presidential politics, yet Republican Nixon was elected just four years later. In 1974, Richard Nixon was shamed out of office under threat of impeachment and Reagan was elected six years later. Both times the Republican Party rose from the ashes to lead once more.
This time, the situation may be more serious. Because it's not just one candidate that's alienating the important swing voter. It's the whole Republican Congress! Or so it seems to the average voter.
Sometimes a party has to come face to face with extinction before it makes the changes needed to survive and win again. In our case here in Texas, Republicans may have to lose a few more races before we get it. The majority of swing voters believe Republicans are mostly Anglo, old, rich, judgmental, intolerant and out of touch. Whether Republicans like it of not, that's the perception, and as they say, perception is reality.
Because of that perception, in last year's election, the 4th Court of Appeals in Texas went from six Republicans and one Democrat to four Republicans and three Democrats. And at the Bexar County Courthouse, every Republican lost. Those losses may just be the beginning. Democrats are on the warpath with Wendy Davis heading the ticket next year. She will lose to be sure. But the Democrats are very likely to win a good number of down-ballot elections simply because Davis will turn out Latinos, Asians, women and young people.
Still, those looming losses may not be enough to shake the Republican extremists, many of whom say, “We would rather lose than compromise.” That's a bit weird. If you lose, you can't lead. If you don't lead, you're irrelevant. Winning is what it's all about in politics. To convince those who say they would never compromise, it may take the loss of the White House in 2016.
I grew up on the West Side of San Antonio, where almost everyone is Hispanic and Democrat. A place where everyone assumes every other Hispanic should be a Democrat, too. I'm not exactly sure just when Latinos woke up with the belief that they were supposed to be Democrats. Maybe Roosevelt or some other Democrat convinced them long ago that they were all poor and helpless and in need of government help. Whoever it was has made it easier for Obama to make the case today and perhaps close the sale.
My earliest memories about politics and Latinos go back to the summer of 1952 when I was 12. We had just bought our first TV, and it was exciting. In those days, there were only three channels: 4, 5 and 12 — NBC, CBS and ABC. Programming was sparse, and that summer all three networks covered the national political conventions simultaneously. So I had no choice. If I wanted to watch TV, I would have to watch the conventions.
The Republican convention came on first. Dwight Eisenhower made his acceptance speech talking about family values, self-reliance, hard work, opportunity, personal responsibility, faith in God, a strong national defense and so on. He sounded just like my dad. I liked that.
Shortly after, the Democratic convention came on, featuring their candidate Adlai Stevens, promising the people more benefits. That didn't feel right. If he was talking to me, he made me feel like a helpless victim. I knew right then I was a Republican. I liked Ike. When I announced it to my parents, I was practically disowned.
“The Republicans are the party of the rich,” my mom said, “We're poor, so we're Democrats.” That convinced me. I had no wish to remain poor, so I became a Republican at the age of 12.
So, what's my point?
First: To challenge every Latino who believes in family values, self-reliance, hard work, opportunity, personal responsibility, faith in God, lower taxes, a ready national defense and a smaller more effective government to take a hard look at yourself. You, too, may be a Republican; you just don't know it, or maybe you just haven't found the right candidate lately.
Second: There are plenty of good Republicans running this coming election. Don't cut them off because of party. Find the conservative men and women with sensible solutions to the tough issues like immigration, the DREAM Act, the economy, jobs and anything else important to you. Get to know the candidates with the courage to stand up in the primaries to those in the fringes and reward them with your vote. Of course, to do that, you'll have to show a little courage yourself by voting for sensible conservatives in the Republican primary.
Third: Make every candidate earn your vote no matter the party. Latinos have enough voting power now to decide elections, and every smart politician knows this. We can't afford to give our vote to those who alienate us, but neither to those who take us for granted.
Lastly, to my friend, Mr. Mendez, I say, “You didn't go wrong, man. You did the right thing. You taught your boys the right values. The only difference is that they realize who they really are”.
It's time more of us Latinos do the same.