Don’t say “immigration”

Republicans went out of their way to appeal to Hispanics tonight, but immigration was entirely absent

Topics: Republican National Convention, Immigration, Immigration Reform,

TAMPA — One would think that by 2012, politicians would have invented more clever ways to pander to minorities, but the block of programming in tonight’s Republican National Convention aimed at Hispanics was a naked attempt to tell Latinos “we don’t hate you.”

Usually, when pandering, the panderer tries to at least disguise the fact that he or she is doing so from the panderee, so as not to give the impression of disingenuousness. Instead, we got a video of Hispanic leaders like Sen. Marco Rubio and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez talking about how many Hispanics there are in the Republican Party, and heavy-handed explanations about why conservative values should appeal to Latinos. Next, Craig Romney, Romney’s son who spent two years on mission in Argentina, came out and said, “It is my privilege to say a few words in Spanish, so please bear with me for a moment.”

Not mentioned anywhere, however, was immigration. As much as Romney would prefer to pretend that Latinos don’t care about immigration, polls show otherwise. But the only reference to the issue was biographical, such as when Staples executive Tom Stemberg noted that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was “the son of immigrants born in Newark, New Jersey — and proud of it.”

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Perhaps they were saving immigration for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, one of the party’s most impressive leaders and a future potential presidential contender, who gave the cornerstone speech of the Hispanic programming block. Bush, who speaks fluent Spanish and whose wife is Mexican-American, has admirably staked out a stridently immigrant-friendly position on the issue and criticized his party’s rhetoric on immigration. What better way to show Hispanic voters that Republicans care about your issues than to put Bush’s immigration policy front-and-center on your party’s biggest night?

Instead, however, Bush steered clear of immigration and stuck mostly to education. He delivered a strong and wonky speech that offered far more substance than any other speech in Tampa, but not on the one issue uniquely important to Hispanics.

Alex Seitz-Wald
Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter. Email him at aseitz-wald@salon.com, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.

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