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Head of Hispanic Outreach for FL RNC Leaves GOP Following Nasty Heritage Foundation Remarks

pablo pantoja

It’s no secret that the Republican Party has a serious problem with immigration.  Increasingly, that problem is Latinos migrating out of the party. Republicanos are trading in the elephant for the donkey, or at the very least just going without a party vehicle.

Last week, a high profile Latino Republican — the former head of Hispanic outreach for Florida’s RNC — publicly left the party.  For Pablo Pantoja, the straw that broke the camel’s back, or in this case the elephant’s back, was the Heritage Foundation’s anti-immigrant report and its co-author’s public defense of Latinos as a group having low IQ scores. 

In his public farewell letter, Pantoja references the general harshness of Republican rhetoric toward immigrants and points to a specific racist exchange at this year’s Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC).  He concludes by rejecting Jason Richwine (author of the Heritage study) and his ilk as true voice of the GOP.  Pantoja understands that his (now) former party has resorted to “intolerance and hate.”

He’s not the first and he won’t be the last.

Another high profile Republican departure occurred close to two years ago, halfway across the country.  Dee Dee Garcia Blase had helped establish the Somos Republicans, a national organization for Latino Republicans based out of Arizona.  But, in the wake of Arizona’s S.B. 1070 she, too, publicly rejected her party. 

Though a fiscal and social conservative, Garcia Blase simply could not make the GOP’s anti-immigrant rhetoric work with her politics.  She left the Republican Party and the Somos Republicans to become officially “unaffiliated.”  Not too long after her departure, the Somos Republicans took a similar route and officially abandoned the GOP to become the Somos Independents.

Departures likes these make the headlines because they involve public, partisan figures.  However, thousands of Latinos are taking the same path of migrating out of the GOP.  Their decision is not made in public but rather in the privacy of a voting booth.

The out-migration is especially stark when we compare the most recent presidential election with George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election.  The 2004 election was the Republican Latino high-water mark.  At that time, half of Latinos identified as being Democrats, 27 percent as Republicans, and 24 percent as Independents.  Democrats were the preferred party of Latinos but slightly more than half still did not identify as Democrats.  Moreover, in his re-election, Bush received 40 percent of the Latino vote.

Fast forward to President Obama’s re-election.  In 2012, the percentage of Latinos identifying as Democrats jumped to 57 percent and the number identifying as Republicans decreased by half with only 14 percent of Latinos claiming a GOP affiliation.  The groups showing the least movement were Independents or those unaffiliated.  In 2012, those groups rose to 29 percent. Still, the biggest shift came in presidential vote choice with Romney receiving only 27 percent of the Latino vote.

The correlation between the GOP’s Latino communications and outreach strategy is linear.  The more harsh and racially negative the messaging, the fewer Latinos will stand by the GOP label.  It’s not a complicated concept.

The Republican National Committee has publicly discussed its intention to actively recruit Latinos.  However, mixed messaging will only exacerbate the out-migration.  Being a Latino-friendly party will require all segments of the party, not just the moderates, to put aside harsh rhetoric, what Pablo Pantoja pointed to as "intolerance."  No one wants to stick around where they’re not welcome.

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