Presidential Campaign

Ben Carson’s Latino outreach flop

There’s nothing more embarrassing than throwing a flop party. That’s what happened to Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson this week when he appeared at a “Hispanic Outreach Event” in Seneca, S.C. About 25 people showed up for the event, which is not bad for a Monday morning. Trouble was, there were no actual Latinos in attendance besides the owner of the business where the event took place, and his brother.

{mosads}Although the inadequate turnout from Hispanics might have been because of poor planning, Carson has a long way to go before he can compete for Latino votes. His immigration positions are out of the Latino mainstream, and he is out of sync with Latinos on other issues as well.

Last year, Carson spelled out his ideas for overhauling our immigration system in an essay for the National Review. Yet his ideas are based on his beliefs that the border is “very porous,” that immigrants have “easy access to health care” and that people come here for “easy acquisition of public support through welfare programs.” In fact, there is sound research and reporting to refute each of these claims.

Carson displays his unfamiliarity with immigration policy by suggesting that undocumented people should, in effect, self-deport to their home countries and reapply for a guest-worker program. Left unaddressed is any discussion of the economic havoc that would ensue if a population equivalent to the state of Ohio were to (even temporarily) remove itself from our country. Nor does Carson acknowledge that applying to enter the U.S through existing legal channels from countries like Mexico or China is a process that can last decades. How does he propose to build a streamlined, functional alternative?

Carson is against President Obama’s executive action, currently tied up in the courts, to grant deportation relief to certain undocumented immigrants — an executive action overwhelmingly supported by Latinos.

Carson is similarly out of step with Latinos when it comes to healthcare. At the 2013 Value Voters Summit, he said “You know, ObamaCare is really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.” But about 4.2 million Latinos have enrolled for coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Thanks to the law, the percentage of uninsured Latinos fell from 41.8 percent to about a third. No wonder that a national poll by Florida Atlantic University in April found that 60 percent of Hispanics have a favorable view of ObamaCare; the law is helping people live longer and healthier lives. By contrast, on his website, Carson promotes Health Savings Accounts and calls ObamaCare “a looming disaster.”

There are other issues where Carson holds positions opposed by most Latinos. A majority of Latinos support same-sex marriage; Carson said that he “strongly” disagreed with the Supreme Court on marriage equality. Latinos view climate change and global warming as serious concerns, while Carson has stated the climate debate is “irrelevant” and is not convinced that global warming is a threat. Carson has railed against “government dependency” — although a Pew Research Center report found that most Latinos favor a bigger government to solve big problems.

To his credit, Carson was the only Republican presidential candidate to show up for the June convention of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO). He also has an appealing personal biography that could resonate with Hispanics. Yet Latinos are unlikely to give Carson a chance unless he adjusts his policy prescriptions. With pollsters reporting that the GOP 2016 nominee will have to win a larger share of the Hispanic vote than ever before, Carson needs a realistic strategy to compete with this demographic group. A just-out Gallup poll shows that he has a net 2 percent favorability rating among Latinos, putting him at roughly the middle of the GOP pack. Embracing moderate positions could be a way for Carson to stand out between Donald Trump’s extremism and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s lackluster campaigning.

Let’s put it this way: Latinos are not going to respond to your outreach efforts, Dr. Carson, if you want to deport our friends and family members and cancel our health insurance. Until you can understand and share our concerns, we are not coming to your party. But thank you for the invite.

Reyes is an attorney and columnist in New York City. He is also an contributor.

Tags 2016 presidential campaign 2016 Republican primary Ben Carson Hispanic and Latino American Hispanic voters Latino voters

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