When Fox News contributor Juan Williams referenced Mitt Romney’s Mexican roots at Monday night’s South Carolina Republican debate, boos erupted from the crowd. This reaction reflects the complicated relationship between the Republican frontrunner, the GOP, and Latino voters.
To get it, we first need to go back to about 1885 when Mitt’s great-grandfather Miles Park Romney and other Mormons fled Utah to Mexico. This Romney elder was escaping persecution for having taken another wife after the practice of polygamy was outlawed. By today’s standards, the Romney family illegally immigrated to Mexico which in turn granted asylum. Mitt’s grandfather Gaskell and dad George Wilcken--a future successful auto CEO and three term Michigan governor--were born in Colonia Dublán, a small Mormon colony in the state of Chihuaha, less than 200 miles south of New Mexico where dozens of Romney cousins still live.
The Romney’s were swept up in the decade-long Mexican Revolution, the 20th century’s first modern social revolution sparked by Francisco Madero’s ouster of dictator Porfirio Díaz who had been in power since 1876. The Mormon families got word that revolutionary, bandit, and killer Pancho Villa and his troops were headed their way and fled back to the U.S. in 1912, with Mitt’s abuelo Gaskell, and papi George, eventually settling in Michigan where the GOP frontrunner was born.
The revelations of Romney’s Mexican roots have spawned the offensive blogosphere headline, “Mitt Romney-Anchor Baby?” and the parody Twitter handle @MexicanMitt, the self-proclaimed “Most Mexican Man in The World©” who tweeted, “I pay 15% TAXES because I am a Quinceañera AT HEART! Ajuua!”
On a serious note, the Romney campaign has been bringing up “Mitteo’s” Mexican origins as it tries wooing Latino voters, the nation’s fastest-growing population and voting bloc which could be critical in the key battleground states of Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado. The campaign also released an ad called “Nosotros” narrated in nearly flawless Spanish by son Craig with cameos by prominent Cuban-American Republicans who vouch for Romney’s ability to create jobs and restore national security.
Yet the inclusiveness of “Nosotros” is compromised, if not outright rejected, with Romney’s hardline illegal immigration stance reiterated at the South Carolina debate where he doubled down on opposing the DREAM Act, insisting that anyone here in the U.S. illegally “get in line” by going back to her native country to apply for residency. Romney also campaigned in the Palmetto State with Kris Kobach, the current Kansas Secretary of State who helped write Arizona’s tough SB 1070, and other copy cat tough immigration laws intended to force illegal immigrants out of the country. In addition to his political post, Kobach works for the Immigration Reform Law Institute, the legal division of the Federation for American Immigration Reform which supports restricting not just illegal, but legal immigration and is classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “nativist hate group.”
So which Romney is going to show up for the general election in November? “Mitteo” of the inclusive “Nosotros” ad or hardline Mitt who opposes the DREAM Act? The campaign and the Republican party may want to note that pollsters say no GOP candidate can win the White House with less than 40% of the Hispanic vote.
Recent polls show that if the election were held today, among Latinos, President Obama would beat Romney by 67% to 24%.
If Republicans are serious about winning the Presidency, maybe it’s time to muzzle hardline Mitt and unleash Mitteo.