First rule of Hispanic outreach: Don’t call it Hispanic outreach.
To reach Hispanic voters, conservatives need to scrap most of the old playbook and replace it with a fresh, innovative and inspirational message that will appeal to every single American — including Hispanics.
The first thing we need to do is resist a knee-jerk reaction that over-interprets the results of the 2012 election and, by consequence, over-simplifies the proper course of action. As we all know, obituaries for the conservative movement have been written with alarming frequency in the past. Typically, they appear shortly before we’ve come roaring back, to the surprise and disappointment of the self-congratulatory left.
Conservatives should think about the Reagan Revolution — not to dwell on past glories, but to remind ourselves of why the conservative movement has succeeded in the past and how it can succeed again.
In short, the conservative movement has succeeded when we have delivered an inspirational message about expanding opportunity by embracing freedom and personal responsibility. Sure, we can criticize liberal failures. But we can’t stop there. We must also lead by presenting a vision of where we must go on a number of policy areas, including welfare reform and deficit reduction. Boldness and decisiveness have always been a part of successful policy promotion.
And, if we want to capture the hearts and minds of the fastest-growing demographic, conservatives need to convey not just ideas, but conviction. Are we convinced that our ideas to improve our country will help every single American regardless of race, ethnicity and gender? Then let it show.
President George W. Bush effectively talked in these terms and it proved to be a winning recipe. In winning re-election, he also captured 40% of the Hispanic vote. Sure, President Bush sprinkled some of his speeches with broken Spanish from time to time as a way of appealing to Hispanics. But he also understood the need to convey why his policies were necessary for the entire country. In so doing, he didn’t write off any demographic and was sensitive to tone and rhetoric when dealing with thorny policy issues like immigration.
Ronald Reagan, of course, was the master of the broad appeal. He keenly understood the need to make his message resonate with previously written-off constituencies, like Reagan Democrats.
This is precisely the vision conservatives need if we are to garner and maintain majority support.
Pandering, packaged in short-term gimmickry, will not work. Hispanics, like all voters, demand a serious pitch from us on how our policies can improve their lives and allow them to prosper, save and pursue their ambitions. Hispanics, like all Americans, will be drawn to a hopeful message that is forward-thinking and inspirational.
This is not fluff. On immigration, we can’t just say we need to secure the border and enforce the law. We must push back on the terrible proposition that being against illegal immigration is tantamount to being against all immigration. Conservatives need to expose the left’s insistence on supporting a system that encourages even more individuals to immigrate illegally in often dangerous circumstances, and then live under the constant fear of being deported. A far more humane policy would encourage legal immigration while discouraging illegal immigration.
Nor can conservatives continue to cede the issues of poverty and social justice to the left. Here again, we need to expose liberal failures in order to demonstrate how conservative policy prescriptions centered on increased personal responsibility and two-parent households are far more effective in reducing poverty rates.
Conservatives have solutions to the escalating high school drop-out rates and high rates of child poverty among Hispanics. Liberal ideas to solve these pressing problems are well past their expiration dates. The problem for us has been an inability to communicate directly and consistently with the Hispanic community on what conservatives are offering.
For far too long, conservatives have only paid attention to the Hispanic community for the few months leading up to an election. We need to become a consistent presence in predominantly Hispanic communications outlets, organizations and institutions.
As the editor of The Heritage Foundation’s Spanish-language website and one of our chief spokesmen in the Hispanic media, I have heard countless times that I am one of only a few conservatives to approach a local Hispanic newspaper or radio station. Hispanic media is no longer a niche industry. It is a major player in journalism, as evidenced by the Univision news network’s highly publicized interview of President Obama.
Conservatives would be foolish to ignore this changing media landscape. The left understands this. That’s why it spends considerable time and energy cultivating relationships with members of the Hispanic media. And it’s certainly paid off for them, in terms of favorable coverage for their policies.
Is it too late for conservatives to make their voices heard in the Hispanic media? Of course not. Not too long ago, the left had a near lock on the blogosphere and social media. Once conservatives realized the value of these media, though, we got in the game and are now more than holding our own.
We can do the same with the Hispanic media. But as we wade in, we must carry not just the right policies, but the right message, tone and conviction. All are needed to succeed in the battle of ideas.