Politics

With Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, Are Republicans Having a Latino Moment?

Q&A with "Ask a Mexican" columnist Gustavo Arellano

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“You get all these rural Mexicans who hate the government, hate taxes, love guns, and love the liberty to get as drunk as they want. Perfect Republicans. But the Republicans will never know that,” says Gustavo Arellano, author of the OC Weekly's "¡Ask a Mexican!" column and the book Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. “So there is that opening for libertarianism to get more Latinos that way.”

Calls for restricting Latino immigration in the United States has damaged the Republican brand among the Hispanic electorate, says Arellano. Since George W. Bush won over 40 percent of the Hispanic vote after declaring that “family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande,” Republicans lost that same segment to President Obama in 2012 by a two-to-one margin

The GOP is hoping the 2016 election will bring Hispanics back to the conservative fold by offering up not one, but two Hispanic candidatesâ€"Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruzâ€"for the presidential nomination. 

But Arellano says that Cruz and Rubio are probably the worst candidates to attract Hispanic voters. 

“Ted Cruzâ€"I kind of feel bad for him because people make fun of him for not speaking Spanish. But a lot of people making fun of him for that also can’t speak Spanish,” says Arellano. “So I feel some sympathy for the guy, but I feel that people view him as being too much of a wonk to be president.”

“On the other hand,” says Arellano, “Rubio is the Great Brown Hope for the GOP, but there’s just something about him that rubs Latinos the wrong way. He’s just a little bit too preachy and precious for everyone’s taste.”

Aside from personal traits, another possible sticking point is the Cuban heritage of Rubio and Cruz. 

“Mexicans, we love Cubans. We love the boxers. We love the baseball players. We love the singers. But when it comes to the political side of the Cuban-American experience, we despise them,” says Arellano. The problem, he says, stems from the "wet-foot, dry-foot policy" during the Cold War which automatically granted citizenship or refugee status to any Cuban that made it to American soil. “On the other hand, Mexicansâ€"for over a centuryâ€"we’ve been coming here, not only for jobs but also fleeing violence in our homeland…and fleeing economic desperation and yet we were always classified as illegals.”

“There is no way someone who thinks of Mexicans as human beings will win the Republican nomination. Ever,” states Arellano. “What the Republicans need to learn if they want to stay a viable party that is they have to learn Mexicans are human. Undocumented people are human.”

Yet Republican repugnance isn't the end of the story. The Democrats' policy of deportationâ€"despite recent steps, Barack Obama has deported a record number of Hispanicsâ€"has left Hispanics in search of a political alternative. That, says Arellano, creates a giant opportunity for libertarians in both major parties. “Young Latinos, like all young people, hate both the Democrats and the Republicans. They hate the Republicans because they demonize Latinos. They hate the Democrats because they deport Latinos. So there’s no way on earth we want to stay with either of these parties.”

His statements pan out. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that almost as many Hispanic Americans identify as libertarian as do whites. 

“The great thing for me about a Latino identity is that you make it what you want of yourself,” says Arellano. “There’s this great line that an artist once said that my definition of an American is to be as Mexican as I want. So for me, my definition of Latino is to do whatever I want to do in this country. I get to choose that identity.”

Produced by Alexis Garcia. Camera by Alex Manning and Paul Detrick. Chart graphic by Jason Kiesling. Music by Kevin MacLeod. 

About 11 minutes. 

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Editor's note: The original title has been corrected.