GOP: Cosmetic Change Is All We Need

Saturday, 1 Jun 2013, 9:09:00 AM

Tom Elias

Thomas B. Elias, Columnist
Santa Monica Mirror Archives
Thomas B. Elias, Columnist

As the

election neared last year and it became clear that Republican presidential

nominee Mitt Romney could not possibly win without more Latino support than he

had so far earned, the national GOP made a symbolic move.

The

party hired Bettina Inclan, once an Arnold Schwarzenegger operative in

California, to spearhead outreach to Hispanic voters. There was never a

moment’s talk about changing Romney’s approach on issues of big interest to

Latinos – things like immigration and health care. The supposed outreach effort

ended in utter failure, as Democrat Barack Obama won 77 percent of the Hispanic

vote nationally and even more in California.

The GOP

has done a full share of navel-staring self-analysis since then, trying to

figure out how and why it lost the White House and allowed Democrats to gain

ground in the U.S. Senate and House, when almost all analysts before the

election year began expected them to lose ground in all those areas.

Now the

GOP has figured out what to do about its poor performance: Put on some new

makeup.

Fittingly,

national Republican leaders met in the same Hollywood

hotel-shopping-entertainment complex that annually hosts the Academy Awards,

where one of the top Oscars goes for the best job of changing appearances

cosmetically.

The

national GOP substantially echoed what the party’s new California chairman,

former state Sen. Jim Brulte, said two months earlier, just before he won his

post.

He would

not advocate any serious changes in party positions or platform planks, Brulte

told this column then. Rather, he listed three areas as his top priorities:

renewing Republican fund-raising operations, recruiting many more grass-roots

volunteers than the party recently has and "rebuilding the party's

bench" by recruiting candidates for legislative and local races who have a

chance to win because they "look like, sound like and share the values of

the people in their neighborhoods."

Meanwhile,

speaker after speaker at the Republican National Committee’s springtime meeting

in Hollywood told the party’s chiefs they need to be part of the communities

they’d like to represent, and not only at election time; that they need to

highlight areas of shared interest and that they must promote more minority and

women candidates.

Nothing

there about making sure more of the minority people they want to represent get

quality education and health care. Nothing about helping undocumented relatives

and friends of citizens gain legal immigration status. Immigration, especially,

is a key issue because of a finding in a recent survey from the often-reliable

Latino Decisions polling firm: about two-thirds of Latino voters are personally

acquainted with or related to at least one undocumented immigrant.

Yes,

some Republican senators have lately become willing to go along with a path to

citizenship lasting 13 years or more, a course seeming so long and remote that

many immigrants view it as virtually unattainable.

Even

that arduous path is too much for many House Republicans – often more harshly

conservative than their Senate brethren who generally serve more diverse

constituencies.

Republican

committee members also were unwilling to compromise on changing the party’s

platform positions.

Instead,

after making Inclan their national director of outreach to all manner of ethnic

voters, they also hired two operatives for outreach among Asian-American and

Pacific Islander voters – two groups that, while not as numerous as Latinos,

also went Democratic by huge margins last year.

“If you

don’t ask for the order, you’re not going to get the sale,” said national

chairman Rance Priebus, in language that almost paraphrased Brulte.

Again,

no talk about changing positions, only about changing the way the party tries

to appeal to voter groups that until recently attracted virtually none of its

attention.

The

bottom line: Republicans are essentially telling Latinos, Asian-Americans and

others to vote for them because the GOP wants their votes. The apparent

presumption is that these voters will respond just because the GOP would like

them to.

But

things don’t work that way. Sure, a party has to let voters know it wants them

and likes them. But it also has to demonstrate that its candidates care about

the same things that drive those voters. To presume Latinos and Asians will be

different from all other groups and respond to mere cosmetic changes in

appearance, with no shifts in substance, is like whistling past the graveyard,

something Republicans have often done in recent years while they thought they

were reaching out.

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