ESTHER J. CEPEDA, Washington Post Writers Group
CHICAGO -- Mitt Romney is back -- and so is his foot.
As reported in The Wall Street Journal, Romney is planning on re-emerging in ways that will “help shape national priorities,” such as assisting the Republican Party as it tries to regain its footing with the non-white voters who ignored the GOP standard-bearer at the polls in 2012.
Yes, the man known for favoring the term “self-deportation” and offending scores of Hispanics by using the word “illegals” over and over again during prime-time presidential debates wants to give Republicans advice on reaching out to minorities.
Romney told the Journal that in addition to wishing his campaign had poured more money into ads targeting Hispanic voters, the GOP needs “to translate our message in a way that minorities understand.”
Honestly, of all the slips Romney committed during last year’s campaign -- from letting his staffers tell Spanish-language media that he was struggling with Latinos because they were simply not well-informed to never calling out his fellow Republicans for using degrading language when speaking about immigrants or Hispanics -- this latest is probably the most insulting.
Some Latino advocates spent the year leading up to the election painting him as a racist for not compromising on his views toward illegal immigration. But I always thought his biggest failure as a candidate was his inability to connect with people who aren’t rich and privileged. His terrible tone-deafness for non-whites was a close second.
Let’s unpack his recent comment starting with the tricky, loaded word “translate.” My first impression was that Romney used the word because he, like so many others, still believes that most Hispanics can’t speak English.
Can someone please get this man on the Pew Hispanic Center’s email list? Almost two-thirds of Hispanics report speaking only English, or speaking it very well, according to the nonpartisan research organization.
That sounds touchy, you say? Well, what else could he have meant? The GOP’s 2012 platform said the party wanted to “rebuild the economy and create jobs, reform government to serve the people and build healthy families, great schools and safe neighborhoods.”
These concepts don’t need to be broken down into some simplified code so minorities can make sense of them.
And this is the second hot button Romney’s statement pushes. Did he not hear about how a leading Republican think tank, the Heritage Foundation, ticked off Latinos when it became known that an anti-immigration reform study was co-authored by a researcher who had authored a Harvard Ph.D. dissertation contending Hispanics have particularly low IQs?
A mere month after that deeply offensive controversy is not the time to imply that minorities have a hard time comprehending the basic tenets of an organization’s values and need special help to understand.
Actually, it’s Republicans such as Phyllis Schlafly and Pat Buchanan -- who have suggested that what the GOP really needs is to double-down on white voters and lamented that “white folks are losing interest in politics and voting” -- who need someone to translate for them.
Schlafly, Buchanan and others who find it silly that some Republicans think immigration reform will send Latino voters into the arms of the GOP aren’t wrong to be skeptical about such a proposition. It’s a long shot at best and Republicans are better off banking on the fact that Latinos care more about education, the economy, health care and the federal budget deficit than immigration.
But Hispanics, as with all minority voters, do care greatly about being treated with respect, which is exactly the top concern that the Republican National Committee outlined in their December 2012 treatise, “The Growth and Opportunity Project.”
In plain English, it calls on the Republican Party to “stop talking to itself,” change the “perception that the GOP does not care about people” and begin to “engage [ethnic minority voters] and show our sincerity.”
As the RNC points out, America now looks different and the GOP simply needs to deal with it in a civil manner. The report quotes tea party leader Dick Armey on the topic of tone: “You can’t call someone ugly and expect them to go to the prom with you.”
See? That’s great advice. And here’s some for Romney: If you want to help the Republicans with their Hispanic and minority outreach, just write some checks and stay out of earshot.
Esther Cepeda’s email address is email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.
(c) 2013, Washington Post Writers Group