"A friend of mine, a Hispanic entrepreneur, asked me a question some time ago. He said, 'When is the last time you saw an Hispanic panhandler?' I think it's a great question. I'll tell you, in my life, I never once have seen an Hispanic panhandler because in our community; it would be viewed as shameful to be out on the street begging."
That was Texan Republican and Senate nominee Ted Cruz on "Fox News Sunday." He went on to make the case that Latinos are culturally conservative and economically entrepreneurial.
Just for the record, I've seen a Latino panhandler or two. Or at least I think they were: I don't usually quiz panhandlers about their ethnic backgrounds. But Cruz is right that there do seem to be fewer Latino beggars than other ethnicities, and I think his pride in this fact is refreshing — and helpful.
This is the last presidential election in American history in which the GOP will benefit from having a boring white guy as its presidential nominee.
This is not a point about racial animosity toward Barack Obama. The key, as it relates to 2012, is not the white part of that formulation; it's the boring part. The operatic nature of Obama's campaign in 2008 and his inability to live up to the expectations he set for himself have created a market for a bland Mr. Fixit type.
But going forward, the GOP needs to figure out a way to become more appealing to new constituencies, particularly younger voters and Latinos.
Boring white guys aren't great for that project. But candidates such as Cruz are.
It is hardly a novel insight that the GOP needs to deal with America's changing demographics. Inside the Beltway, the conventional explanation for how Republicans should do that tends to boil down to pandering and capitulation. For instance, Latinos care about immigration, we're told, therefore Republicans should adopt the same policies as the Democrats.
The substance of those policies aside, there are political problems with this thinking. First, Republicans rarely, if ever, win such bidding wars.
Second, there's a faulty assumption here — that various ethnicities and young people generally are monolithic and hard-wired to support certain policies, and are therefore immune to persuasion.
But young people almost by definition believe in things they eventually grow out of. The same goes for Latino voters, who are not monolithic racially, ethnically, religiously or ideologically.
For instance, the Latino vote has been growing less Democratic over the last 30 years, according to Sean Trende, the senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics.com.
Moreover, illegal immigration is nowhere near as important to Latinos (as opposed to Latino activists) as the media make it sound. In 2008, less than half (46%) of Latino voters who said they voted Democratic also told exit pollsters the issue was "very" or "extremely" important to them. And nearly a third of Latinos who considered illegal immigration "very" or "extremely" important voted Republican.
Trende argues that most of the Democratic advantage among Latinos can be explained by income. Poor people tend to vote Democratic. There are a lot of poor Latinos in the U.S. Still, if you control for income, the Latino voter becomes less distinct from the average voter.
In short, Latinos lean decidedly Democratic (particularly in presidential elections), but they are decidedly persuadable as well. And young politicians like Cruz — and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, also of Cuban descent — have a better shot at persuading them.
White GOP politicians tend to be terrified of racial and ethnic activists and the journalists who empower them. This results in many sounding condescending, pandering or dull when they try to reach out to minorities.
Young, energetic, whip-smart and philosophically coherent politicians like Cruz and Rubio can confidently appeal to Latinos without sounding condescending and without caving to liberal assumptions about how to win over Latinos. They're also harder to demonize.
I mean, just imagine if Romney had mused about the dearth of "Hispanic panhandlers."