Republicans should be in better shape than ever before to make an appeal to Latino voters. Two of their announced candidates for president, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, are sons of Latino immigrant parents and another soon-to-be-announced candidate, Jeb Bush, speaks fluent Spanish and has a Mexican-born wife.

The situation is not quite that simple, of course. The Republicans’ three amigos look about as phony to many Latinos as the trio of actors-pretending-to-be-Mexicans played by Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short in the 1986 movie, “Three Amigos!”

Unlike Rubio, [Jeb Bush] has not waffled in his support for immigration reform. In February, he told the militant right-wingers at the Conservative Political Action conference that the idea of deporting 11 million undocumented people is a nonstarter. He said there should be a path to legal status for those who work, don’t break the law, learn English and “contribute to society.”

In response, the CPAC crowd booed him, which illustrates the problem for any Republican effort to reach out to Latino voters. Even if a candidate with appeal to Latinos makes it through the primaries and wins the nomination, will those Latinos want to give their votes to a party that displays such a hard heart when it comes to their undocumented compatriots?

Buoyed by victories in Colorado and in Florida, the RNC feels it has a blueprint for how to win support from Hispanic voters. Of the $10 million strategic initiative announced after the 2012 election for the midterms aimed at Hispanic, black, and Asian voters, the largest chunk was spent on Latino outreach, with more than 40 staffers spread across 10 states including the Southwest battlegrounds, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, and Texas.

Now the RNC says it is raising the strategic initiative budget “substantially,” with plans to double paid staff to more than 80 in those states…

“Almost every Republican running to be the leader of their party supported an effort to shut down part of the government, because they wanted to stop a policy that would keep immigrant families together,” said DNC spokesperson Holly Shulman, referring to the fierce opposition to Obama’s executive actions from Republicans that would shield more than 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation and is currently undergoing legal challenge…

Andres Ramirez, a 20-year veteran Democratic strategist in Nevada said for all the criticism of the DNC, they identified in 2003 that the Latino community wasn’t monolithic — that Nevada has a higher immigrant population, for example, and in Colorado and New Mexico you’re dealing with third and fourth-generation Hispanics. The GOP, he said, is just playing catch up.

The Cruz campaign released a video in Spanish and promises a push for Latino voters. “We will have an aggressive Hispanic outreach effort and have staff that are spearheading it,” said Cruz campaign spokeswoman Catherine Frazier. “Ted’s father, Rafael, will also be an active surrogate.”…

But Cruz, whose mother is Anglo, has had a limited connection to the Latino community, which is largely Mexican-American and also largely Democratic…

Cruz’s attacks on issues favored by much of the Hispanic community, especially the Obama administration’s easing of immigration restrictions and the Affordable Care Act, have made him unpopular. In a Latino Decisions poll in November of over 4,000 Latinos in 10 states where Hispanics are a significant voting bloc, Cruz had a favorable rating of 31 percent and was viewed unfavorably by 39 percent…

“He’s slightly more Hispanic than Jeb Bush,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, who added that he was only half-kidding.

Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who is running for president, plans to meet with the head of a national Latino organization who accused the lawmaker of distancing himself from his ethnic community

“The Hispanic Chamber is an important constituency,” said Rick Tyler, the national spokesman for the Cruz campaign. “We’re going to have a conversation, the host and the senator. They will talk about jobs, economic growth, national security,” and other “top issues on their agenda, and the interests of the [chamber’s] members.”…

Palomarez said Cruz was being smart in talking to Hispanics early on in his campaign.

“Never before has the Hispanic electorate played such an important role, and never again will a president be elected without Hispanic votes,” Palomarez said.

This past November we asked 4,200 Latinos who voted in the 2014 midterm elections whether they had a favorable or unfavorable view of Rubio. Nationally, only 31 percent had a favorable view (12 percent “very favorable”, and 19 percent “somewhat favorable”) while 36 percent hold an unfavorable opinion of the Senator (22 percent “very unfavorable”, and 14 percent “somewhat unfavorable”), a net of -5. Should Rubio become his party’s nominee, the campaign would need to engage in substantial Latino-specific outreach as we find that one-third of Latino voters had either never heard of Rubio (13 percent), or had no opinion (20 percent)…

At the state level, the trend is not much different. In competitive states where Latinos comprise a significant share of the active and eligible electorate, Rubio’s numbers remain in negative territory. In his home-state of Florida–where Latinos are a critical component to this famously competitive state–Rubio’s favorables reach only 39 percent, compared to 42 percent unfavorable; a -3 net result. Similarly, his unfavorable share is just over 40 percent in North Carolina and Nevada–two states where Latino voters have played a decisive role in recent elections. Since nearly half of all Latino voters reside in Texas and California, it is important to consider Latino political behavior in these two states, regardless of the level of party competition. The large number of Latino voters in California and Texas means that Latinos can have an impact on the party primary. Rubio is at a net -11 in California, and flat in Texas (net zero with 31 percent favorable, 31 percent unfavorable). In both states, nearly 40 percent do not know of, or have no opinion of Rubio…

Our research shows that Latino support for Rubio was largely contingent upon his immigration positions. If he took a leadership role in advancing comprehensive reform (as he did with the Gang of Eight), 54 percent of Latino voters said they were “likely” to vote for him in the next election (with 21 percent “very likely”). However, if Rubio focused on security/border control priorities (which does not address the status of the 11 million undocumented currently living in the U.S.) Latino support for Rubio dropped to only 29 percent–a substantial difference of 25 points.

Rubio’s challenges were on display Monday, when he formally announced he was running for president. While giving his speech from the Freedom Tower in Miami, a group composed of young illegal immigrants known as Dreamers and other Latino advocates protested outside by shouting, “What about my family? Rubio’s dream is our nightmare!” Rubio also faced hecklers angry over his immigration policies on his recent book tour…

“There’s too much animosity from the Republican Party toward the Latinos, and in order for that to change you can’t just run a Latino last name,” said Norma Ruiz Guerrero, founder of Memes Media, a New York political advertising firm that helps candidates craft their message to Latino voters. “His last name should be Smith, really,” she said of Rubio. “He’s not anything like the majority of Latinos in this country.”…

The main factors driving Rubio’s unpopularity in the Latino community are his about-face on immigration reform and his opposition to Obama’s executive actions on immigration. He was one of the so-called Gang of Eight senators who pushed for immigration reform that would have allowed a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants until the plan was killed by the House. Rubio has since said the big bill was a mistake and reform should be done in piecemeal, first through legislation to secure the border.

“That’s his Achilles’ heel,” said Luis Alvarado, a Republican strategist with California consulting firm Revolvis. “That will continue to resound until Election Day with all Latinos, and they will make him pay for that.”

Carlos Guitierrez, a Cuban-American and former U.S. commerce secretary under then-President George W. Bush, said Rubio needs to “cross over” to other Hispanic communities, such as the large Mexican populations in Texas and California.

“He’s going to have to do some old-fashioned retail politics, because people don’t know him,” Gutierrez, a former chief executive officer of cereal maker Kellogg Co., said. “They haven’t really followed him because he is a Cuban-American, as opposed to people seeing him as typical Hispanic.”

Rubio’s crossed over before. In his 2010 Senate race, he won a majority of the Hispanic vote, bucking a nationwide trend that favored Democratic candidates, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center. Rubio, a favorite of the conservative Tea Party movement that year, took 55 percent of the Latino vote in a race that also featured then-Governor Charlie Crist running as an independent and Democrat Kendrick Meek.

But before anyone gets too far down the road of discussing the GOP’s 2016 Hispanic face, keep this in mind: “Hispanics” are a very big and complicated group and both Rubio and Cruz are from one small segment of it, Cuban-Americans

About 33 percent of Cuban-Americans identify as Republicans, versus just 21 percent of Hispanics overall, according to the Pew Research Center. More than 17 percent of Cuban households have an income of $100,000 or more, compared to less than 12 percent for Hispanics overall, according to the U.S. Census. And about 27 percent of Hispanics have a bachelor’s degree, compared to about 15 percent for Hispanics overall, according to Census data…

And on top of those differences you can add one more. About half of Cuban-Americans, 46 percent, live in just one U.S county, Florida’s Miami-Dade. So the great growth of Hispanic populations around the United States does not really apply to them as a group…

Furthermore, from a sheer numbers perspective, the real growth in the Hispanic vote in recent decades has been among Mexican-Americans. In 1970 there were fewer than 1 million Mexican immigrants in the United States. Today there are roughly 12 million. And of the 15 million Hispanic households in the United States, about 9 million are occupied by people of Mexican origin.

Less than 5% of Hispanics are Cuban, and Florida remains their epicenter. But outside of Florida, Mexicans dominate — roughly 75% of Latinos have roots in Mexico. Bush’s wife, Columba, is among them.

“The difference with Bush is he has access to the Mexican American experience, which is really different than the Cuban experience,” said Matt Barreto, who has extensively polled Latino voters and teaches at UCLA. “Rubio’s biography is not unlike other immigrants, but Cubans had advantages that other immigrants don’t. His experiences don’t have the same resonance.”…

Bush, who hasn’t announced a run, is expected to make his appeal to Latino voters a central part of his electability argument. In speeches, he often lapses into Spanish.

“If Bill Clinton is the first black president, I’m definitely the first Cuban at least — or Latino — governor of the state Florida,” he boasted at gathering of the Hispanic Leadership fund in 2012.

Blame the White House’s Cold War game for the divide between Cuban Americans and other Latinos in America, not traditional Latin American rivalries. While Latinos who escaped sometimes-unfathomable violence in their countries – Central Americans during the 1980s, South Americans during their dirty wars, or Mexicans during this decade’s narcoterrorism – were rarely granted refugee status because American allies inflicted the violence they’d fled, Cubans famously received the red carpet treatment when fleeing Castro’s Cuba in the 1960s and beyond. Latinos who came to el Norte illegally for economic reasons had to evade la migra; Cubans who arrived after the initial wave were subjected to America’s infamously simple Cuban immigration policy: make it to land, and you can stay. (Haitians certainly didn’t have it so easy.) Because of the double standard, many Latinos have long cast Cubans as entitled recipients of a hand-up that the rest of us never got. And, Cuban-Americans’ embrace of the Republicans who welcomed them while demonizing all other Latinos also created a political rift in the Latino community that any Cuban-American politician running outside of Florida and New Jersey must confront.

That chasm, undeserved or not, would’ve already weighed down Cruz and Rubio before they even tried to court Latino voters. Then we get to their actual politics. Cruz is a blip in Latino popular culture, both because of his alignment with the evangelical fringe of the GOP and because his Spanish is virtually non-existent. The latter isn’t a fair knock, and Cruz did have a great comeback in 2010 when explaining why he wouldn’t do a debate on Univisión: his Spanish wasn’t great and “That’s the world in which I grew up, and that’s a world in which a lot of second-generation immigrants find themselves”. But refusing to speak Spanish will draw snickers all along the campaign trail, especially when Jeb Bush can speak better Spanish than most Democratic Latino politicians.

And here is the problem. So far the Republicans haven’t given the Democrats much incentive to have genuine integration of Latinos into the party structure. If the Republican primary season is just another rehash of immigrant bashing, various shades of self-deportation strategies, and a continued resistance to addressing the distrust Latinos have with the GOP, the Democrats will only need to hold the line and await Latino voters come election day as the default choice.

Latinos are looking for someone in the GOP to stand up to the past and look to the future. Marco Rubio ventured into the idea of immigration reform, but was soundly rebuked by the base of his party. By abandoning his own sensible reform policies, he showed little resolve in moving the party forward. If he is getting ready to stand up to Iran, he can stand up to a few party donors at a coffee function in the primaries.

Until the GOP makes some serious policy adjustments “the Latino vote” will be more about shaving enough Latino voters from the Democrats than actually winning over Latino voters.

Rubio’s main advantage when it comes to winning over Latino voters is not that he is a second-generation Cuban American. For one thing, less than 4 percent of Latinos are of Cuban origin while almost two-thirds (64.6 percent) are of Mexican origin, and the ethnic politics of southern Florida are profoundly different from those of southern Texas or Southern California. Rather, Rubio’s advantage is that more than almost any other leading Republican, he’s dedicated himself to thinking about and talking about how conservatives can advance middle-class economic interests. Not all of Rubio’s proposals are fully baked. His signature tax reform proposal has been criticized (justifiably) on the grounds that it’s a huge revenue-loser that promises all things to all people. Yet Rubio has pushed a number of promising ideas, like higher wage subsidies for low-income workers, a new child credit to make it easier for middle-income parents to make ends meet, and modest higher education reforms designed to steer students toward high-quality, cost-effective colleges and away from diploma mills that produce more dropouts than graduates.

Even if you believe that winning Latino voters per se is not the key to winning the presidency in 2016, as Henry Olsen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center has convincingly argued, it will be all but impossible for Republicans to win without attracting more working- and lower-middle-class voters. Whether or not Rubio’s emerging domestic policy agenda is compelling enough to win these voters—I happen to think he has more work to do—he recognizes the nature of the challenge that’s ahead of him. That puts him miles ahead of Bush and every other Republican in the field.

Via the Daily Caller.