I do not know what President Obama is going to say today in Orlando at the annual convention of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials. I did hear Mitt Romney yesterday and to say that it fell short of what he needed to do is an understatement. By my timing, Romney spoke for 16 minutes. In the 20 or so GOP debates during the presidential primary campaign, I estimate that Romney spent at least five minutes, on average, bashing immigrants and, by extension, HispanicLatinos who, while not making immigration their number one priority, do not cotton to that kind of language. Romney’s antagonistic language in the last few months amounted to perhaps as many as 100 televised minutes – not to mention the endless repetition of his remarks as sounds bites across every medium in the country. It isn’t as if HispanicLatinos do not know where Romney stands on things HispanicLatino. And so 16 minutes hardly would suffice.
But Romney amazed me: The national Spanish-language networks, both television and radio, waited for him with genuine interest. Univision and Telemundo were there, but also were the mainstream media, from which most HispanicLatinos get their news. CNN and MSNBC carried the address live. This was not a “gotcha” moment. He had control of the entire environment. It was a golden moment for Romney but, like the alleged vetting of Marco Rubio for vice president, Romney flubbed his opportunity. Perhaps he expects Jeb Bush or Rubio to do what he could not do for himself. Yet it does not work that way. Folks do not vote for surrogates. He could have achieved 100 percent coverage of the HispanicLatino community to make up for 100 minutes of discord.
If the Romney campaign hoped for some phrase, some language, some image, some narrative to register and make it across the many media gathered there that could begin to turn around the presidential race, the speech it prepared for its candidate was wholly and surprisingly absent of anything substantive. Who gets this kind of tee-up and whiffs it?
It is hard to believe but perhaps the Romney campaign is being managed ineptly or, as I said in an earlier blog, its managers might have decided to give up on the HispanicLatino vote within its own efforts but leave it to its SuperPacs to run a hard-right campaign a la Willie Horton or a la Pete Wilson to rile up the segment of the national population upset by the demographic transformation the country is undergoing.
Romney’s speech left it wide open for Obama to deliver an emotional knock-out punch today. The Romney speech had no feeling, no emotion in a front of a crowd that expects human contact. Romney could have made the Mexican angle of his life story more effective. He can tell a story of his Mexico-born father, but the way he went on about it yesterday was robotic. But, wait, to have been more compassionate, to have had more feeling – like understanding why 800,000 young HispanicLatinos who are in the country illegally through no fault of their own might need a break – would have been anathema to the anti-immigrant wing of an anti-immigrant party.
Romney delivered his one-dimensional confection in an age in which HispanicLatinos and the rest of America can multi-task their understanding of events. Focusing on the economy narrows his message. HispanicLatinos and the rest of America know that the challenging economy is not Obama’s fault but George W. Bush’s responsibility. And they know that neither Obama nor Bush for that matter had anything to do with other, additional factors long in the making that are hurting the American worker. So Romney’s one-track attack on Obama is going to fall on deaf ears more often than he realizes. That is what happened in Orlando yesterday. What Romney said about immigration might have been important but the HispanicLatino community cares little about the details of any of his ideas. HispanicLatinos, however, do care a lot about what they saw in the war years of the Bush Administration and the six months of this year’s GOP presidential primary campaign. And they ain’t buying it.
Finally and disastrously, Romney spoke to the national organization that is probably the most important to the HispanicLatino community. NALEO is made up of leaders with direct stakes in the electoral process as it relates to their community, unlike other organizations who are tongued-tied by their legal status. NALEO is also a non-partisan, non-profit organization. But its non-involvement engages those who are involved.
For a candidate who is passing himself off as a management expert, Romney does not know much about tomorrow’s managers of the American Dream. They were there in that hall in Orlando.
He could only give them 16 minutes when they wanted so much more.