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November 29, 2013

Conservatives Should Reject Defeatism, Reach Out to New Voters

By

Can you imagine Christianity without the dedicated faithful taking the gospel to nonbelievers? Missionaries would not travel the world preaching the redemptive message that God’s own son died on a cross to save humanity. What kind of institution would Christianity be? What kind of membership would it have?

The answer is obvious. It would be a smaller circle comprised of individuals fortunate enough to have encountered the Christian message through a family member, an acquaintance or a close friend. A sentiment of the limited appeal of the Christian message would have prevailed in this alternate universe.

The conservative message is not the Christian gospel. The comparison is hardly fair. And yet, both are movements grounded in powerful ideas that can influence the individual at every level – including one’s view of society and even their government.

In order for any movement to grow, it needs believers. And the surest way of creating believers is by taking the message to the skeptical, the uninformed and sometimes even to the outright hostile.

A movement without followers ceases to exist in due time. Which is why it’s disappointing to hear voices convinced that conservatism will never appeal to specific segmentations of the population. Some individuals are born liberal and will die liberal. There is hardly any wiggle room.

This may sound over the top, but it’s hard not to draw this assessment after reading recent commentary from luminary voices in the conservative movement waving the white flag when it comes to conservatives’ ability to win over Hispanics.

There’s almost glee radiating in the conservative movement’s limited appeal: “Don’t say I didn’t warn you. If there was any doubt that Latino voters and especially illegal immigrants naturally lean toward liberal ideologies, look no further than Virginia,” opines Laura Ingraham in a blog titled: “Latino Voters are Democrats at Heart.” The Virginia reference coming from a recent Washington Post article on the Democratic machine’s work in turning out the growing Hispanic population in what was once a reliably Republican state a mere couple of electoral cycles ago. Discouraging for sure, but curiously missing from Ingraham’s analysis is the considerable push being exerted by Democrats to win over the growing Hispanic electorate in the Old Dominion state. The article cites: “The state’s Democratic party has been working to draw Latinos for the past decade, and in 2004 it formed a group called Latinos of Virginia.”

Contrast that with Ken Cuccinelli that has “done more limited outreach to Latino voters, chiefly through the creation of an advisory group in September called “Nuestro Cuccinelli.”

As in High School, the odds of getting a date for prom night are better when “the ask” is made. Politics isn’t all that different.

And yet, some have convinced themselves that the asking some is a waste of time and not necessary. Ms. Ingraham is hardly alone in this pessimistic prognostication. Phyllis Shlafly offers an even starker assessment writing in Town Hall: “the current level of immigration, even without amnesty will add nearly 15 million new potential voters by 2036, a large share of whom will favor the left.”

In other words, conservatism has hit a ceiling and rather than trying to find believers or make converts, seclusion is the way to go. If we are to believe Ms. Ingraham, Ms. Schlafley and others, then the conservative movement has a definite expiration date because according to the Census Bureau, Whites will cease to be a majority by 2043.

And if you’re a conservative convinced that what’s needed to save our country from bankruptcy and tyranny are conservative ideas grounded in greater freedom and limited government, then there’s little hope for the United States given the inevitability of the movement’s inability to arrest progressive’s ascent.

Don’t tell this to the bright eyed bushy tailed young conservative volunteering to get out the vote and interning in our nation’s capital for little or no money at all for the cause of freedom.

Perhaps the solution is not to take the conservative message to Hispanics and minority groups, but to White Americans that may be far more likely to be persuaded. Sean Trende from Real Clear Politics advanced this argument in a recent Real Clear Analysis writing that there were approximately 6.1 million fewer white voters in last year’s presidential election and it’s reasonable to conclude that many of these largely downscale, northern, and rural white voters could have pulled the lever for the right candidate, like say Ross Perot.

According to Trende, “Democrats like to mock the GOP as the “Party of White People” after the 2012 elections, but from a purely electoral perspective, that’s not a terrible thing to be. Even with present population projections, there are likely to be a lot of non-Hispanic whites in this country for a long time.”

But according to Alex Roarty of the National Journal this strategy may have some holes. Roarty writes, “…If the GOP determines that its future lies with an all-out pursuit of whites, it might find an unwanted surprise. Some white voters, particularly young ones, won’t align themselves with a party that can’t attract support from Hispanics, African Americans, and Asians. To attract more white voters, the GOP, ironically, might need to attract more minorities.”

A tall order indeed given the last two Presidential elections and the President’s comfortable margins winning over non-white voters, but the truth is that digging deeper the numbers reveal the other half of the story. As Arthur Brooks wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal article, what President Obama’s lopsided victory with Hispanic voters doesn’t reveal is that the other half of the eligible Hispanic electorate didn’t show up to vote in last year’s election.

Even more encouraging for conservatives, “according to the National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey, ‘Hispanics that don’t vote are more likely to call themselves conservatives….Non-voting Hispanics are more likely than the voters to express conservative attitudes such as agreeing that “hard work” is more important than “lucky breaks or help from other people” in getting ahead.”

Hardly conclusive, but hard not see at least a window of opportunity being opened if conservatives have any interest in wanting to communicate conservative principles to the fastest growing demographic in the United States. What’s even more remarkable is that liberals’ own forced errors are creating an even more inviting opportunity, as evidenced by a recent 9 point drop of the President’s popularity among Hispanics in a recent Gallup poll.

The drop is likely attributed to the disastrous Obamacare rollout and the ensuing ineptness by the Administration that was ill-prepared for Hispanics interested in enrolling knowing that they make up a disproportionate share of the uninsured. But even more of a problem to the White House and HHS are reports of insurance cancellations in the heavily Hispanic states of California and Florida that will surely have even more lingering political repercussions.

This is an opening for Republicans because Latino optimism about expanding health care is starting to wane like the rest of the population, according to Gabriel Sanchez, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Mexico. The Republican strategy of hammering at the health care law could work among Latinos.”

As if this wasn’t enough fodder, it’s worth pointing out just how poorly Hispanics have fared since President Obama was elected. Not only do Hispanics continue to have a higher unemployment rate than the general population, a recent analysis by Sentier Research found that the median income for Hispanic households has dropped from $42,931 to $40,979 in recent years.

In short, liberal policies are creating no shortage of societal and economic failures further postponing the American Dream that so many Hispanics looked for in immigrating to this country. The question for conservatives is if there is any fire in the belly to substantively, methodically and systematically communicate the conservative message to the fastest growing demographic in the United States that could very well decide if our children and grandchildren will live in the land of freedom and prosperity.

As the Strategic Initiatives Manager at The Heritage Foundation, I am proud to be part of a collective effort taking the conservative message to Hispanics in the United States. Thanks in part to our online presence (Libertad.org) and our social media, The Heritage Foundation is now a constant fixture in local and national Spanish language media.

Expect more from us as we look to build upon our success in the years to come, but in conservatism is to prevail in an increasingly more diverse electorate, more and more conservatives will need to go where it hasn’t been heard before.

Moreover, conservatism will need to defined and explained in tangible and practical terms. The hard work of educating, organizing and mobilizing will need to take place if conservatism has a fighting chance against the well-oiled progressive machine that is adept at victimizing minority communities for political gain and the main stream media sympathetic to progressive causes.

Perhaps most challenging, the conservative movement will need to come to terms that communicating conservative ideas to minority communities is not the same as pandering for votes. Pandering is changing positions in order to win over the support of a specific sub-set of voters. Whereas a campaign that shares the same message to different audience members is effective marketing and has been successfully employed in the private sector as long as capitalism has been around.

Even on the contentious issue of immigration, conservatives have a compelling case in showing why the rule of law is indispensable to a flourishing society. Conservatives could respectfully remind Hispanics that the inconsistent adherence to the rule of law has made it difficult for democratic institutions to flourish in Latin America and pave a path for growing economy driving so many to go elsewhere for economic opportunities. By ceding over this issue to the political Left, conservatives are left fending off empty accusations of being against immigrants and immigration.

Beyond immigration, which seldom ranks as the most important issue for Hispanics polled, there are other issues where Hispanic have been shown to be the conservative policy proposals including school choice, reducing taxes and protecting the sanctity of life. Unfortunately seizing on these opportunities has been sporadic at best, especially in a non-presidential election year. This may be changing however, as seen in the latest push by the Republican Party to hire and employ field directors charged with engaging with minority communities in strategic battleground states.

But even this approach has limitations if it isn’t coupled with a substantive policy pitch that effectively demonstrates how conservative ideas can address the electorate’s concerns. As Senator Mike Lee recently remarked at a lecture at The Heritage Foundation: “…If conservatives want the American people to support our agenda for the government, we have to do a better job of showing them our vision for society. And re-connecting our agenda to it….Negativity on the Right, to my mind, makes no sense at all.”

The latter is particularly important if conservatives hope to make greater inroads with minority communities that are less concerned about federalism and the size of the federal deficit and more concerned about making ends meet and overcoming chronic unemployment. This certainly doesn’t mean that conservatives need not sound the alarm about the federal deficit, but to talk about why this will make it increasingly difficult for the economy to grow, create jobs and provide economic opportunities for the children of middle class families.

On this, conservatives have always been at a disadvantage because the Left is all too eager to call for a tangible recourse from the federal government in the form of increasing the welfare state while the alternative defers to the family and the civil society. Instead of cowering from having this fight, the conservative movement should welcome the opportunity to discuss the ineffectiveness of the war on poverty and the federal government’s handling of federal education that have disproportionately hurt minority families.

To repeat, this won’t be easy. It’s hard work that requires patience, discipline and a tough skin with the real prospect that it may be all for naught. But, if we as conservatives are convinced that our ideas are the best hope to save our country from the precipitous slide we find ourselves in, then it’s a noble fight that we should be all too eager to have.

The conservative movement has no great commission of “making disciples in all nations.” The closest we may have is Ronald Reagan’s famous line that the “trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant, but that they know so much that isn’t so.”

Success for the movement rests on the conservative faithful taking President Reagan’s observation to heart, convicted in the knowledge that the appeal of freedom is universal.

- Israel Ortega serves as The Heritage Foundation's chief spokesman to Spanish-language news media, including print, radio, television and online.

Originally appeared in Breitbart.

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