(Photo: REUTERS/Eric Thayer)
Tuesday's election should be a "wake-up call" to the Republican Party to do more to reach out to non-whites, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez said in a Wednesday interview with The Christian Post.
"Either [Republicans] press the snooze button on the Latino electorate and continue with an exclusive Southern strategy that is no longer applicable in a 21st century reality, or they have a 'come to Jesus' moment ... where they realize America has changed," said Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and a senior editorial advisor for The Christian Post.
President Barack Obama won re-election on the strength of non-white voters who turned out to vote for him in large numbers. Obama lost the white vote by 20 percentage points. In any election before 2012, that would have led to a landslide for the Republicans. The demographic shift taking place in the United States, though, with whites comprising a decreasing portion of the electorate, will continue well into future elections.
While many Republicans realized the demographic shift taking place in the country was working against them, they thought it was a shift they would only have to deal with in the future, not on Tuesday.
"The Republican Party needs to acknowledge the fact that they suffer from cultural myopia, and the idea of garnishing 75 percent of the white participation vote and winning the election via the conduit of a solidly white base is over," Rodriguez explained.
As a pastor, Rodriguez does not support or endorse candidates of either party, and has advised politicians of both parties.
The strategy that the Republican Party should pursue, Rodriguez suggested, is to "rebrand itself as the party of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan – as a justice, optimism and freedom party."
Part of that change would mean adding poverty alleviation, education, and immigration reform to the Republican Party's platform. Rodriguez believes that Republicans can do this without compromising its core principles. And if they do, "they will make significant inroads into the Hispanic community and in the African-American community."
But "without the Hispanic and the African-American vote, it's game over. The Republicans will be the marginalized ... for generations to come."
Rodriguez believes that two factors created a "perfect storm" which hurt Romney's chances with Latino voters this election: the immigration rhetoric during the Republican primaries and Obama's "dream decision."
Much of the rhetoric during Republican primaries alienated Latino voters, Rodriguez explained, such as when Romney used the phrase "self-deportation" in describing his immigration policy.
Additionally, before last summer Obama was in trouble with Latino voters. They were upset that he had dramatically increased deportations and did not live up to his promise of pursuing immigration reform in his first term.
Last June though, Obama announced that the Justice Department would no longer deport unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the country as minors, graduated from high school, served in the military or obtained a GED, and had no criminal record. The decision was similar to a bill, the DREAM Act, which failed to pass in Congress. Obama's "dream decision" energized Latino voters and brought them back to his camp.
Rodriguez believes that despite Obama's "dream decision," Republicans could have done better with Latinos if they had picked a candidate who spoke with a more moderate tone on immigration reform, such as Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio or Newt Gingrich.
If Republicans had chosen a candidate that was "more friendly" on the immigration reform issue, Rodriguez said, then Latinos would have viewed Obama's "dream decision" as a "political tool," "after he deported 500,000, after he did not pass immigration reform," "to try to increase his Latino vote."
Rodriguez spoke with Romney during that Republican National Convention, where he delivered one of the benediction prayers. The Romney campaign understood, Rodriguez said, that they "went too far" in their rhetoric on immigration during the primaries. Romney seemed to take Rodriguez's advice to heart and he changed some of how he spoke about immigration after that. But it was too little, too late.
"At the end of the day, the damage was done – the self-deportation rhetoric, the primary, even the rhetoric coming out of the Republican Party regarding immigration reform alienated Latinos," Rodriguez explained.