Less than two months after the RNC announced a multi-million dollar campaign to improve minority outreach, Republican efforts were dealt a humiliating blow when Pablo Pantoja, the RNC’s appointed Hispanic Outreach Director for the state of Florida, publicly announced he was switching to the Democratic Party, and encouraged other Hispanics in Florida to do so as well. The RNC is spending heavily to convince minority voters to consider voting for them, but can’t convince their own minority outreach staff that the GOP’s culture is inclusive.
Pablo Pantoja is a seasoned Republican operative, having served as a Field Director in 2010 and with the Romney Campaign in Florida in 2012. Pantoja stated in a letter published by the Tampa Bay Times the reasons for his switch, saying that he is “taking a stand against this culture of intolerance” by joining the Democratic Party.
“When the political discourse resorts to intolerance and hate, we all lose in what makes America great and the progress made in society,” stated Pantoja.
Without naming names, Pablo Pantoja attributed his switch in part to a controversial Heritage Fund study on the cost of immigration, and the fact that it was penned by researcher Jason Richwine, whose 2009 doctoral dissertation alleged that Hispanic immigrants and their children had “lower IQs.” While immigration reform was a contributing factor to his decision, and he stated that his experience was “intertwined with those who are referred to as illegal,” immigration policy was the only main factor.
Pantoja was fed up with the rhetoric that the Republican Party either allows or ignores. He mentioned that immigration-related research is being “padded with the same racist and eugenics-based innuendo” and also mentioned an embarrassing episode at CPAC, where a supporter argued that Frederick Douglas’s former masters did not need to be forgiven for enslaving him, because they had provided food and shelter for their slaves.
Pantoja made it very clear he did not believe that these were isolated incidents, but that the GOP had a culture of intolerance that he could no longer support stating: “The complete disregard of those who are in disadvantage is also palpable. We are not looking at an isolated incident of rhetoric or research. Others subscribe to motivating people to action by stating, “In California, a majority of all Hispanic births are illegitimate. That’s a lot of Democratic voters coming.” The discourse that moves the Republican Party is filled with this anti-immigrant movement and overall radicalization that is far removed from reality.” Pantoja also stated that he did not believe this to be solely immigration related, and part of a broader GOP cultural issue.
This is a public relations disaster for the Republican Party, particularly in terms of relations with Latino voters. Republicans lost Florida to President Obama in 2008 and in 2012, with 60% Latinos in Florida voting for President Obama in 2012. Latinos are America’s fastest growing minority at 16% of the population. The number of registered Latino voters has risen 26% in the last four years. Beyond Florida, Latinos voted for President Obama at 70% in Nevada and 75% in Colorado, and were key in securing victories in both states. Republican Strategist Ana Navarro has stated, "If we don't do better with Hispanics, we'll be out of the White House forever."
The Republican Party already faced significant challenges with minority outreach, and catastrophic bungles like this are not helping. Unless the RNC takes definitive action this incident could cripple their efforts at minority outreach in the state of Florida, and nationwide — and that could cost them the White House in 2016. According to their own operatives, solving the problem will involve turning inward and facing problems within the RNC culture, and not just outreach to potential minority voters.