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GOP must learn to reach out

If party can’t include minorities, it may never win popular vote again

Published: Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012 7:00 a.m. CDT

Forget Republican comebacks in 2014 or 2016.

Unless it gets its head and its heart straight, the party might never win the popular vote or the White House again. The GOP today is not my father’s party.

And until the hierarchy of the GOP stops talking about how great Ronald Reagan was and starts embracing what he really stood for, the party of conservatism is destined for the ash heap of history.

Ronald Reagan was somebody who believed in inclusion, not exclusion. He found a way to reach out to all voting groups, which is why he was the last Republican presidential candidate to win the Hispanic vote.

The GOP in 2012 reminds me of the state of disarray it was in during the mid-1960s.

It was so bad for Republicans in California then that they held a special convention and invited the state’s Democratic Speaker of the Assembly, Jesse Unruh, to come and tell them what was wrong with them.

Unruh came and was blunt: The GOP had no vision and no message for voters, because they didn’t know who they were or what they stood for.

Those pre-Ronald Reagan Republicans got the message. They left that convention, turned their fortunes around, and ended up with Ronald Reagan in the governor’s chair.

Today’s national GOP needs the same kind of turnaround, and the process starts with fixing the party’s inclusion problem with Hispanic, black and Asian voters.

Last week I spoke to a room of 400 conservatives. The only blacks in the room were serving us breakfast. There were only a couple Hispanics — in Florida.

That’s not inclusive. Republicans have got to find a way to reach out to these communities.

I told those conservatives in Florida a story about a young man who as a child came to the United States illegally with his parents in the early 1980s.

He became an American citizen in 1986 when my father signed into law the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, which granted amnesty to 3 million illegal residents and made them citizens.

When he turned 18, to thank the United Stares for allowing him to become a citizen, he joined the Navy to serve his new country.

When the USS Ronald Reagan was home porting in San Diego, he volunteered to serve on the ship named after the president who allowed him to become a citizen. Now he mentors 275 sailors on that aircraft carrier and is working on his master’s degree.

There are a thousand stories like that that nobody wants to tell when Republicans talk about immigration.

The GOP has got to find a message of inclusion instead of “Get the hell out of my country.” That’s what Hispanics and other immigrants hear from the Republican Party — “Get out.”

We have to attract immigrants to the GOP, not repel them. We have to do it with more than words every two or four years. And we can’t do what Mitt Romney did.

He came to California, held a fundraiser, grabbed his money and left. He did nothing to get out the vote or reach out to the Hispanic community.

Romney wasn’t going to carry California. But we lost three good incumbents in close congressional races in the state on Nov. 6 — Mary Bono Mack, Dan Lundgren and Brian Bilbray.

Why did we lose those seats? Because only 29 percent of registered voters in California are Republican. And why is that? Because the GOP lacks a vision. Because it lacks a message.

If the GOP is to survive and get this country back on track, it has to regain its Reaganesque vision and make its message more caring and welcoming to immigrants.

The Republican Party has to reach out to the Hispanic, black, Asian and other communities and become involved with them — and do it every day from now on.

Until that happens, the GOP is going to have lots more Thanksgivings with less and less to give thanks for.

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