It is no secret that Governor Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, faces a challenge attracting Hispanic support in November's presidential election. What is not so obvious is why a Republican candidate is having such a difficult time connecting with a group generally considered conservative on issues relating to faith, family, and country. After all, in part due to the policies of President Obama, Hispanic Americans suffer more than other groups from higher unemployment, falling household median income, and a rising poverty rate. Hispanics are also unhappy with the President's deportation policies and his failure to honor his campaign pledge to them to push for immigration reform.
However, in spite of these circumstances, many polls show President Obama enjoys a significant double-digit level of support from Hispanics over Governor Romney. Shared values and failed economic policies apparently are not enough to offset the inconsistent - sometimes half-hearted - attempts of the Republican Party to make Hispanics feel welcomed and supported.
Governor Romney will have to counter that perception and find a way to develop trust with the Hispanic community. Policies to stimulate the economy and create jobs, and GOP support nationwide for Hispanic Republican candidates will help. However, the Governor must connect directly with Hispanics and convince them that, like President George W. Bush, despite being born of privilege he understands their struggles, values their worth, shares their dreams, and will fight for them. We want to believe in someone who believes in us. Family and friends are important in our culture. This is personal for us and the Governor must make a personal connection in order to convert unbelievers into believers. Many Hispanics will be looking for that relationship and listening for the Governor’s vision of what is still possible in America for Hispanics who get an education, work hard, and pursue a dream.
Both political parties covet the potential votes in the growing Hispanic population, and both campaigns have stepped up their outreach. Governor Romney, already described by a few in the media as “too slick,” should resist calls to engage in a campaign to sell himself to Hispanics as if marketing a car or soft drink. What is required of him here goes well beyond commercial considerations. There is a moral imperative for our leaders to reach out to a significant population in this country and inspire them to participate in its governance. This election is a mission to win converts, and a fight for the life and soul of the Republican Party.
One of the challenges for the Governor is the Party's harsh rhetoric over immigration. Many of my Hispanic friends believe in, as I do, the rule of law and the need for a secure border, but they are dismayed at verbal assaults that sound more anti-Hispanic than anti-illegal immigration. It is good policy and good politics for Republicans to push for comprehensive immigration reform legislation that support our national security and economic policies. However, the tone of the debate surrounding those efforts should be civil and compassionate.
Governor Romney has an opportunity to show Americans whether he is a politician who is focused solely on this next election - or a statesman focused on the next generation. If he proves to be the former, his election is in doubt and the future of the Republican Party in jeopardy; if the Governor is the latter, he has the opportunity to build a strong foundation of support within the Hispanic community that will serve him well in November, and help position the GOP in 2012 and beyond.
Alberto R. Gonzales is the former United States Attorney General and the former Counsel to President George W. Bush. He is currently the Doyle Rogers Distinguished Chair of Law at Belmont University, Of Counsel at the Nashville law firm of Waller Lansden, and a regular columnist for Fox News Latino.
Alberto R. Gonzales is the former U.S. Attorney General and White House Counsel in the George W. Bush Administration. Presently he is the Dean and Doyle Rogers Distinguished Professor of Law at Belmont University College of Law.