Presidential hopefuls face sincerity challenge in engaging Hispanics

Today, presidential candidates from both parties hoping to take the White House recognize the significance of appealing to the Hispanic electorate. It couldn’t be any more obvious: almost one-fifth of the U.S. population—more than 55 million people—are Hispanic. Every 30 seconds a Hispanic turns 18 and becomes an eligible voter. That’s over 60 thousand brand new voters every month and that will be the case for the next 21 years in a row. In the face of this reality, presidential hopefuls are vying for our vote, each with their own spin on what it takes to reach out to the Hispanic community.

Some presidential candidates are using immigration and its corresponding economic issues as a way of connecting with Hispanic voters there and across the country. By way of example, earlier this year at our National Convention in Houston, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) said, “We don’t need to build a wall. We don’t need to deport every person that’s in this country [illegally]…That’s not a practical, conservative plan. That won’t solve the problems.”

Bush gets it. His wife, Columba, is an immigrant from Mexico, whom he met while spending three months in Mexico as a teenager, helping to build a schoolhouse. Bush has described his three children as bicultural, noting that they speak Spanish at home. His outreach to the Hispanic community, whatever you may make of it, is undoubtedly sincere.

Other candidates are against immigration reform, but still position themselves as united with the Hispanic community on social issues. As an ardent opponent of the 2013 Gang of Eight immigration bill co-sponsored by Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioJuan Williams: When WikiLeaks leaked my cell number 56 memorable moments from a wild presidential race New York Times endorses Rubio's rival MORE (R-Fla.), Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzJuan Williams: When WikiLeaks leaked my cell number 56 memorable moments from a wild presidential race Is Georgia turning blue? MORE’s (R-Texas) stance is hardly seen as friendly to those advocating for reform. His brand of Tea Party conservatism--a message carefully cultivated through years at the Senate--is often regarded as fundamentally incompatible with the interests of the Hispanic community.

And yet, Cruz was the first among the 2016 presidential candidates to agree to sit down with us for a Q&A session open to our constituents as well as the national media. In a crowded venue attended by some of the most prominent Hispanic corporate executives in the country, Cruz argued that the Republican Party is the natural home for Hispanic voters who value entrepreneurship, family, and self-reliance. While some might find it difficult to reconcile opposition to immigration reform with a genuine call for inclusion of the Hispanic electorate, Cruz advocates these views with steady conviction.

Still other candidates recognize--and admit--what they don’t know. During another Q&A session, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersJuan Williams: When WikiLeaks leaked my cell number Trump: Podesta a 'nasty guy' Sanders’ brother loses British parliamentary election MORE (I-Vt.) demonstrated his support of social and economic policies that would uplift the middle class--in particular, allying himself with the minority-owned business owners who have worked tirelessly over the years in the face of a financial system Sanders would call unjust. And yet, Sanders also readily acknowledged that his track record with the Hispanic community is minimal, on account of the relatively homogenous demographics of Vermont, a state that happens to be 95 percent white. In the midst of the usual political maneuvering of a heated presidential election cycle, this sort of honesty is refreshing.

What these candidates-- Bush, Cruz and Sanders, among others--have in common is authenticity. Despite their vastly different policy agendas and political affiliations, candidates like these truly believe in their own message.

But other candidates, currently campaigning across the country, may not be as authentic. Despite their anti-Hispanic rhetoric, they might not even believe what they’re selling. It’s difficult to claim to be against immigration and immigrants when your wife is an immigrant, or your clothes were made in Mexico, or your hotels were built by Hispanic laborers--and it’s impossible to make that claim as a presidential candidate hoping to represent the United States of America.

To be clear, the USHCC doesn’t endorse any particular political candidate, but rather, provides all candidates an opportunity to set the record straight on their views on issues that concern Hispanic Americas. As a business association that recognizes the intersection of commerce and policy, the USHCC understands that in this country, business and politics are inextricably tied. Now more than ever, we believe that the Hispanic electorate has the opportunity to shape the future of America, not least of all through the election of the next president.

Palomarez is president and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.