There is a lot of foolish talk about how Republicans need the Hispanic vote in order to avoid political oblivion. Most of these pundits ignore a basic saying: better to be silent and thought a fool, than to speak and erase all doubt.
As a Hispanic Republican from the Northeast, I am no more qualified than anyone else to divine political mysteries -- but I am also no less qualified than the "anglo" pundits and other "useful idiots" who reveal their biases and intellectual arrogance each time they play "identity politics" with this incredibly diverse ethnic category. (Note I do not use "group," as there is often little in common among the many ethnicities whose ancestors came from or through Latin America.)
First, the immigration issue is just flat-out irrelevant to most Hispanic voters. That doesn't mean that immigration stances cannot affect the vote. They can. People who feel they are being pandered to on immigration may feel insulted and can just stay home. Wonder why Romney's vote totals were several million less than John McCain's in 2008, and this while running against an unpopular incumbent?
Why is immigration irrelevant to Hispanic voters? Consider that two of the three largest components of the Hispanic voter base are Puerto Ricans and Cuban-Americans (the third being Mexican-Americans). As most educated people should know, Puerto Ricans are natural-born American citizens. They could care less about this issue -- and in fact should object to an open-borders policy on economic grounds that an influx of bilingual and blue-collar labor will reduce their prospects in the labor force. Cuban-Americans are the children of emigres, of whom most fled Communist Cuba and received asylum. Far from being immigration hardship sources, both groups should gain from a fair and just enforcement of current immigration laws. As for the third group, Mexican-Americans, most want amnesty for the obvious legal relief and economic benefits. This presents the Republican Party with a conflict between the promise -- but by no means certain benefit -- of political gain, and the risk of alienating existing supporters and other potential supporters by rewarding the "moral hazard" of immigration lawbreaking and thereby making all other immigrants who applied and waited patiently (or got rejected) for visas and green cards feel like, well, second-class citizens.
The real solution is to recognize that Democrats have been winning the battle in appealing to the economically rational self-interest of most Hispanics. It is all about economics. Someone who is poor and dependent on the government -- whether he works at a low-salary full-time job or exists solely on government programs -- will respond to being given "free" stuff.
I argue that competing on the basis of who can give away more is a sucker's bet and an entirely unwinnable one. It is a race to the bottom. The problem is, once you are pricing your product at the "free" level, you cannot go below that except to actually give away (other people's) money in addition to free stuff. In other words, once you decide to play that game, you have hit bottom. With a thud.
As with all other immigrant groups before them, Hispanics who start to climb into the middle class and amass even the barest of assets, possessions which they actually own, rapidly realize that the government stops being their benefactor (if it ever was that to begin with) and view it as an oppressor, a predator, an uncaring force out to take from them any time they dare to hold on to any savings of their own.
In my own experience, very few Hispanics who work hard and aspire to either own homes or their own businesses need any help in being taught where their economic interests lie. Their hardship makes them more aware of the raw, visceral instinct, the desire to simply be left alone by government. Forget the "social issues." On economics, they are conservative, make no mistake about it.
What my experiences have taught me is that Hispanics "with ambitions," as I'll call it, have a choice between being involved in Republican and conservative politics, and being totally uninvolved. Successful outreach by the Republican Party will consist of little more than not pandering or condescending to Hispanics. There are few insults as grave as to diminish someone's accomplishments by suggesting they need special treatment or mangling Spanish in an effort to show cultural sensitivity. The practitioners of such tactics -- who are more prevalent in the Democratic Party, incidentally -- efficiently and effortlessly reveal their latent racism. Downtrodden Hispanics (and other minorities) suffering from low self-esteem will accept, ignore or fail to recognize such insults. But achievers, those with "skin in the game" and plenty of assets placed at risk, will recognize those insults and will not be inclined to forget them.
In essence, the best way for Republicans to appeal to Hispanics, is to ignore their background altogether and treat them as they would treat any other American. That, mi amigos, is true inclusion.
Eric Dixon is a corporate lawyer who practices in New York City and handles business, investigative and political matters.