Romney’s mythical Latino support
The national mainstream media likes its narratives neat and tidy. How else to explain Mitt Romney racking up big numbers among Latinos in Florida? The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza falls into the trap of proclaiming that Romney has made a “leap” among Hispanics and has “overcome his doubters.”
Cillizza rightly points out that Romney’s rigid immigration positions won’t play as well nationwide, but he downplays the reason. “Florida Hispanic Republicans aren’t analogous to all Hispanic Republicans,” he finally concedes, “much less all Hispanics.”
Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer cuts to the chase more cleanly with this message for Romney. “Don’t read too much into your impressive victory among Hispanic voters in Tuesday’s Florida primary,” Oppenheimer says. “You will face an uphill battle to emulate it among Latino voters nationwide.”
Take the time to deconstruct the Latino “monolith” in the Sunshine State and you’ll find that Cubans, with their decades-old special immigration status, and Puerto Ricans, who are American citizens, do not have much of a stake in the immigration debate.
However, as Romney moves toward the general election, his Latino appeal becomes more illusory. Mexican-Americans, not Cubans who tend to be more conservative than other Latinos, comprise the majority of the ethnic Latino vote. Mexicans also make up substantial numbers of the illegal immigration population.
Romney’s tough stance on immigration reform won’t play well. Indeed, most voters, not just Latinos, favor some type of pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. His claim that his temporary work permit plan would lead to “self-deportation” for those who cannot meet with more stringent requirements is a curious turn of phrase that may come back to haunt him, as so many others have.
The Dream Act, which would give a pathway to citizenship to undocumented young people if they are pursuing a college degree or are serving in the military, did not prove to be much of an issue in Florida. However, the plan strongly resonates in Nevada and elsewhere as a more humane first step. In Florida, both Romney and Gingrich gave tepid support for a citizenship pathway via military service. That doesn’t sit well with undocumented students in Nevada who are already planning protests.
Less well known is Romney’s position on bilingual ballots. He doesn’t support them, which flies in the face of current federal voting rights law. Stir in the percolating debate over making English the official language of the US, and Romney will have to find some way to avoid tying himself up in new linguistic knots as he attempts the impossible feat of appeasing immigration hardliners while selling himself to the Latino voters he needs to beat President Obama. It’s a dialogue that won’t be neat or tidy.
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