Geraldo Rivera: Mitt’s Mexican Roots

On Monday, the same day Mitt Romney addressed the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles, a hidden camera video shot months earlier at a $50,000 a plate Florida fundraiser was released.

The undercover video contained a curious reference to Latinos by the candidate who did not know he was being recorded.

Among other unfortunate remarks he has since struggled to explain, including one about Palestinians being perennially belligerent and another about the “47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” Romney mentioned his biographical anomaly.

He reminded the high-rollers at the fundraiser that his father -- the late governor, auto executive, cabinet secretary and presidential candidate -- George Romney was born in Mexico.

Perhaps because his ancestors were the children and grandchildren of Mormons who fled the United States to avoid anti-polygamy laws, the Romney family’s Mexican connection was not mentioned by the candidate between 2007, when he began running for president, until the fact was unearthed shortly before the 2012 New Hampshire primary by NBC News.

Given the significance of illegal Mexican immigration to his politics, the omission is noteworthy.

On the surreptitious tape shot in Boca Raton in May, which was after he had wrapped up the nomination, Gov. Romney is heard saying he would “have a better shot of winning this” election if his folks had been real “Mexican parents,” rather than just the children of transient American missionaries.

I wonder why he said that.

Is he suggesting that as a “real” Latino he would be more sensitive to issues concerning the group? Or more likely, is he suggesting that, superficially, he would be more attractive to the key Latino voting bloc?

Surely he couldn’t be doing much worse than he is currently.

According to the latest Fox News Latino poll, he is trailing President Obama by 60 percent to 30 percent among Latinos. For Romney, it is an improvement, to be sure, over polls released earlier this year showing Obama leading with up to 70 percent of support among Latinos, while the governor hovered at about 20 percent.

But it remains slightly below John McCain’s disastrous showing in 2008, and 14 points behind George W. Bush in 2004.

And it is neither because Barack Obama looks more Puerto Rican than Hawaiian, nor because Romney’s forebears were strangers in a strange land.

His Latino problem is his politics, not his ethnicity.

For the last five years he has been blaming the 11 million undocumented immigrants for much of what ails this country.

His unrelenting refusal to show them even the slightest compassion helped him win the GOP nod.

Romney right-flanked his opponents, crushing Texas governor Rick Perry for supporting breaks for innocent youngsters brought here by their parents, and effectively accusing Newt Gingrich of promoting backdoor amnesty for those here illegally; because the former speaker made the modest suggestion that after a quarter century or so in this country, there should be a statute of limitations after which aged immigrants would be allowed to remain.

The governor still opposes the DREAM Act. He allowed his party to draft a platform that adopts his draconian notion of  “self-deportation,” and uses the archaic and deeply offensive phrase “illegal alien.”

During the Chamber of Commerce speech, Romney said, “I am convinced that the Republican Party is the rightful home of Hispanic Americans.”

The bitter irony from the GOP point of view is that he is right.

American Latinos have an instinctive Republican bias. Like my dad, they are pro-family, pro-life, socially conservative and entrepreneurial. But they’re not going to vote for a candidate or a party that since the end of the Bush presidency has done next to nothing but insult them.

And insofar as his dad’s roots?

To suggest that if his name was, say, Mitt Rivera he’d be having an easier time winning Latino hearts and minds demonstrates his lack of understanding of the community.

Brain Sandoval in Nevada and Susana Martínez in New Mexico are both Hispanic Republican governors, but neither won the Latino vote in their respective states.

Marco Rubio did better, but even the charismatic senator did not win a Latino majority in Florida.

Policy matters.

And if the GOP doesn’t alter its policies, then the political doomsday scenario imagined by Gov. Romney of Latinos becoming as monolithically Democrat as African-Americans will come to pass.