Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

GOP's problem with Latinos -- as big as Texas

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN Contributor
updated 12:15 PM EDT, Tue May 29, 2012
Ted Cruz, running for a U.S. Senate seat from Texas, was the target of a questionable political attack, says Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ted Cruz, running for a U.S. Senate seat from Texas, was the target of a questionable political attack, says Ruben Navarrette Jr.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ted Cruz, a conservative Republican, is seeking a U.S. Senate seat
  • Ruben Navarrette says he was target of unfair ad saying he favors amnesty
  • Incident shows tension between those who welcome Latinos, those who don't, he says
  • Navarrette: GOP must decide whether they see Hispanics as a foil or as their future

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.

San Diego, California (CNN) -- In Texas, where voters will go to the polls on Tuesday, politics can be brutal.

Case in point: the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. It's rough and dirty and personal. And, whether it ends Tuesday or continues on to a run-off on July 28, it could blow up all the bridges that Republicans in Texas built over the years to Hispanic voters.

This is because, in the 11th hour, the primary went down a muddy road. That is, if you think that accusing a candidate with a Spanish surname of favoring "amnesty" for illegal immigrants -- with no evidence to back it up -- is hitting below the belt because it raises questions about divided loyalties and feeds into the perception that all Hispanics favor open borders and unlimited immigration.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

No kidding. There are those Americans who are convinced that Hispanics are working behind lines to help Mexico reclaim the Southwest in an elaborate "reconquista."

The impact of the 'Latino vote' beyond Texas

I remember the reader who, sweet as you please, wrote to tell me: "I think most people who read your columns understand that you're pro-Mexican invasion because you're Mexican."

Fight for the Latino vote in 2012
Latinos divided on gay marriage issue
Latino vote in 2012

U.S. Senate candidate Ted Cruz is not Mexican. Nor is he Mexican-American. He is Cuban-American. And a funny thing happened to him on his way to Washington.

After months of campaigning as a generic, run-of-the-mill, appeal-to-the-base Republican, Cruz was hit by a negative radio ad put up by a super PAC that supports his opponent, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. The spot claimed that Cruz supports giving the undocumented a pathway to earned legal status ("amnesty" in right-wing parlance) as evidenced by the fact that he sits on the advisory boards of two business groups that support that view.

The ad charges: "Cruz helps run two national organizations that have been leading the push to give amnesty to illegal immigrants."

Opinion: How Romney can win over Latino voters

That sounds awfully thin. I've known Cruz for about 10 years, and I couldn't tell you what his immigration views are. I do know that, during this campaign, he has lurched to the right in order to snuggle up to the tea party and that he said during one interview that he "categorically opposes amnesty."

But what does that mean, anyway? According to polls, most Americans oppose amnesty. The concept is all about getting something for nothing. Most of the immigration proposals being bandied about in Washington offer something in exchange for something else.

Political Ticker: Santorum endorses Cruz in Texas Senate race

For me, the bigger issue is why this accusation was leveled at Cruz in the first place, let alone in the closing days of the GOP primary, when he couldn't do much to respond. It's not like the former Texas solicitor general and graduate of Harvard Law School is considered soft on illegal immigration by any means. Rather, he is pro enforcement with a capital "p."

In fact, while serving as the state's chief litigator, Cruz took on the George W. Bush administration, the World Court, and 90 foreign nations who challenged Texas' right to execute an illegal immigrant who had raped and murdered two teenagers in the state -- and he won.

So why target Cruz with this kind of slimy attack? The only explanation is that someone at the pro-Dewhurst super PAC cynically thought an accusation of being "pro-amnesty" would be especially explosive aimed at a Hispanic candidate because it feeds into existing prejudices.

That might well be, but this is short-term thinking. I doubt that the strategist thought about the effect an ad like this is likely to have on any Hispanics who might be considering voting Republican. It makes it less likely.

Rubio on voter ID laws and Latinos: 'What's the big deal?'

That's what makes this story so perplexing. This is Texas, after all, where Republicans can't figure out whether they want to reach out to Latino voters -- or repel them.

In one camp, you have Republicans like George W Bush, who achieved historic inroads with Hispanic voters both as governor and president and fought members of his own party to open the debate on immigration reform, and Rick Perry, who signed a law allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities and defended that decision on the national stage while running for president.

In the other camp, you have the folks behind this ad, which could well include Dewhurst, who hasn't disavowed the spot.

Republicans aren't unified, either on immigration policy or on the need to attract Hispanic voters. And they're not doing themselves any favors with lame stunts like this. They only wind up portraying themselves as unfriendly and unwelcoming. Whereas the GOP was once described as a big tent, today the party is more like a private club. And there is a guard at the door.

That's true in Texas, but it's also true across the country. Republicans have to figure out -- and fast -- whether they see Hispanics as a foil or as their future. If they want to survive in a country that is becoming more Hispanic by the day, they had better choose the latter.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette Jr.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:34 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT