Following the selection of Michael Steele as chairman of the Republican National Committee, commentator Leslie Sanchez pondered whether the two political parties would be able to look beyond the stereotypes of Latinos as they vie to attract them.
Last year, Sanchez authored "Los Republicanos: Why Hispanics and Republicans Need Each Other," a book that drew media attention but apparently changed few minds within the party.
Her question is elemental. Hispanics, stereotypes aside, can be rich and poor, entrepreneurial and the jobless, colonial pioneers and yesterday's arrivals. Willingness to hold together as a community is a strength that registered in last November's presidential election.
Despite chatter to the contrary, the hard historical truth is Hispanics align roughly two-thirds Democratic and one-third Republican. There are exceptions, of course, and John McCain's 31 percent of the Latino vote in November was close to the mark.
Sanchez recognizes Republicans must win at least 35 percent of the Hispanic vote to remain viable in future presidential races. Like many Republicans since the 1970s, she concentrates on the affinity with entrepreneurs, the middle class, and the upwardly mobile as the best recruits.
The problem with classism like that is it drives a wedge among Latinos as a community of interests. This approach was most recently rejected as Latinos of differing income levels and professional strata were slapped in the face with the reality that hateful anti-immigrant talk really does brush-paint their own families. Many who thought they were accepted into the middle and upper-class milieu discovered they were still perceived as outsiders. Brought into question is whether it's possible to be a respectable Republican and a Latino as well.
By allowing anti-immigrant radicals to run amok, divide-and-conquer class politics is played out while the party preaches there is room for everybody. Lost are the shared interests of fair chance, good schools, democratic representation and the like. No party has a patent on such values.
The challenge before Chairman Steele isn't how to entice a Latino constituency to the existing Republican Party but how to prove to Hispanics the party is capable of change and worthy of their participation.
The Republican dilemma is that without Latinos, the party doesn't stand a chance in any near-term presidential election, and it will increasingly lose statewide races in new Democratic territory such as Nevada, New Mexico, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina. The usual Republican electorate is not growing, while the Latino population is.