When Republican strategist and former Bush administration advisor Karl Rove addressed the California Republican Convention in March 2013, he reminded them of the party’s failure to capture the Latino vote in 2012, the year that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney captured 27 percent of the Latino vote.
Romney pushed the idea of having undocumented immigrants “self-deport” and trying to pander to the very far right Tea Party members of the Republican Party in adding additional security along the México-U.S. border, giving no pathway to citizenship for those who are in the country illegally and cutting off tuition breaks to the children of undocumented immigrants.
After Republicans lost the Latino vote and subsequently the White House, Rove told his party it was time to come together and start rethinking their strategy in reaching out to diverse communities.
“We are here to rebuild our party from the ground up in innovative and thoughtful ways that will expand our reach and expand our members – and to have victories,” he said.
In California, Republicans hold no statewide office and account for less than 30 percent of the state’s registered voters. In 2012, they lost important congressional races while Democrats obtained a supermajority of the state Legislature.
Obama won a second term by capturing 72 percent of the Latino vote.
At a standing-room-only workshop that year conducted by GROW Elect, then-President Rubén Barrales encouraged Republicans to find ways to convince Latinos that they are the party of “inclusion” and that the family values and stance on conservative issues embodied by the Republican Party are aligned closely to those espoused by Latinos.
The Republican futility at luring more Latino voters was in full display at this weekend’s state convention, where about 1,000 protesters greeted the arrival of leading Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump on Friday.
Saturday, former California Gov. Pete Wilson, who is blamed for waking up the Latino vote by promoting Proposition 187 in 1994, showed up to introduce Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who is running a distant second in the Republican primaries.
Given the fact that this year, California will finally influence who becomes the GOP presidential nominee on June 7, Republican strategists can’t explain what exactly has turned the tables on their own party. They point fingers at Trump and Cruz, but also a changing society.
“I think for the first time in our history, the rest of the country is starting to experience what we as Californians experienced twenty years ago in the mid 1990’s,” said Mike Madrid, a nationally recognized expert on Latino voting trends and Republican strategist.
Madrid believes California is at an important crossroads.
“For the first time, the state matters and the demographic transformation that we went through when we were maturing and diversifying, which started in the 1990’s—those battles are over. California is what is and Republicans accepted this reality and tried to grow the party two years ago, but now, the rest of the nation is going through what California went through,” said Madrid.
Republicans who have not accepted the changing demographics of the country are the ones touting anti-immigrant rhetoric and ‘make America great again’ ideologies.
Saturday, Wilson expressed his support for Cruz.
“Ted Cruz is the son of immigrants and he is all for legal immigration, not illegal immigration, which has always made this country great. He is hardly a Latino,” said Wilson.
Cruz spent the next half hour touting his agenda which included ensuring Americans have their second amendment right to bear arms, a plan to secure the México-U.S. border, repealing “every single word” from Obamacare, passing a flat tax on all Americans, abolishing the Internal Revenue Service and took a vow to stand with Israel. He also took aim at his opponent, Donald J. Trump and the potential Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.
“We don’t need someone in the White House who is hot headed. We need someone with character and that knows what he believes in and actually believes in something. We also need someone who understands what it’s like to struggle,” said Cruz.
He also defended his stance on choosing a running mate even though he has not yet secured the Republican nomination. Earlier last week, Cruz selected Carly Fiorina as his vice presidential pick.
“Carly has shattered glass ceilings and she is a woman that terrifies Hillary Clinton. In fact, Hillary Clinton is incredibly terrified by Carly. I can’t wait to see Hillary Clinton tossing and turning…in her jail cell, knowing that Fiorina is someone to be feared,” said Cruz.
Cruz then touched on the issue of immigration.
“I will stop amnesty in its tracks. I will end sanctuary cities. I will stop all welfare aid to millions of people. I will ensure that millions of new and high paying jobs come back from Mexico and China. It’s all about Reagonomics vs Obamanomics. In Reagonomics, young people create a job in their parents’ garage, in Obamanomics, young people are moving in to their parents garage,” said Cruz.
Cruz said Republicans have an easy choice to make in choosing their nominee.
“Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are flip-sides of the same coin. We need to have a forward-looking party and a forward-looking campaign. We need to have unity in our party. We cannot be divided. If Hillary wins this election, our country will be lost,” said Cruz.
Martín Chávez, a fourth-year student at UC Merced who identifies as Republican, finds himself unable to make a choice for a presidential candidate this election cycle. Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio were two strong choices before they subsequently dropped their bids for the White House, and Cruz seemed to be a distant third, but he is still not convinced by what he has heard so far.
“I want to see how he can really connect to California and know how knowledgeable he is on the issues that affect our state. Water is important here in the Central Valley and jobs and ensuring the Latino community has jobs, but I still don’t know if he really knows what our needs are,” said Chávez.
Cruz concluded his speech by emphasizing unity in the Republican party, but from undecided voters like Chávez to strategists like Madrid, Cruz and Trump are two candidates who can’t seem to unify their party or connect with Latinos.
“We are seeing nationally what we saw play out in California 20 years ago. What does that mean? It means that we are going to end up twenty years from now where we are as a party because we are not adjusting to the cultural demographic changes,” said Madrid.
Having Republican presidential candidates that can’t really connect with, or who truly reflect that growing and changing demographic will result in the Republican eventual fall of the party, he said.
“In the 20 years that I have been a Republican, I have never seen so much disunity and fracture – a divided political party in my life. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but one thing is for certain. It’s likely Cruz won’t get the nomination. It looks like Trump will sweep it all,” said Madrid.