Under the banner “The Next Generation of Conservatives” Al Cardenas kicked off the 2013 Conservative Political Action Convention (CPAC), the nation’s largest annual gathering of conservatives, activists and prominent GOP voices. Cardenas, the chairman of the American Conservative Union (ACU), outlined three critical goals moving forward, including “embrace changing demographics of America not by diluting our principles but reaching out to all Americans.”
America has changed significantly since the ACU began hosting CPAC 40 years ago. In today’s America Hispanics now make up 16% of the U.S. population and growing rapidly, with over 500,000 Hispanic youth turning 18 each year – voting age. This reality has not escaped conservative leaders, wide-eyed after the 2012 election.
Under Chairman Cardenas, CPAC has continued its tradition of showcasing diverse conservative voices from every background. It’s fitting that each year more of those voices happen to be of Hispanic origin.
Discussing dozens of issues during the three-day conference Hispanic conservatives peppered various panels providing their expertise and insights. Latino foreign policy specialists like Roger Noriega and Otto Riech, prominent business leaders like Hector Barreto, pro-immigration reform advocates, grassroots organizers and top Hispanic GOP elected leaders filled the National Harbor outside of Washington DC for CPAC.
A central message at CPAC is that Hispanics have much more in common with the GOP than they think.
The conservative movement is an attractive place for Hispanics, many who naturally share values with the right of center movement. Latino political attitudes on the importance of hard work, entrepreneurship, family and education all provide an opening for conservatives with this growing demographic. A 2012 Gallup poll showed that second generation Hispanics are more open to conservative policies than their immigrant parents, demonstrating that attitudes about the role of government shift significantly between generations.
Rejecting calls from political pundits, conservatives do not believe they need to change core principles – individual liberty, personal reasonability, free enterprise and the belief in American exceptionalism – to attract new voters. Conservatives don’t need new principles, they need new ideas and better tactics on how to communicate these values to Hispanic voters. A suggestion repeated by speakers throughout CPAC.
“You grow your tent by convincing others, persuading others that yours is the way. And you build your tent by reaching out to the new demographics of America, not with a watered down version of who we ought to be,” said Cardenas, who is the first Hispanic to lead the ACU.
Congressman Raul Labrador reaffirmed these sentiments during a panel on immigration reform titled “Respecting Families and Rule of Law: A Lasting Immigration Policy.” Alongside a full dais, which included Jenny Korn of the Hispanic Leadership Network, Daniel Garza of the Libre Initiative and Whit Ayers, the panelist discussed the need to pass immigration reform citing it as a “gateway” issue that has been polarizing. Labrador is among many Republican legislators currently looking to pass a solution through Congress.
Now the challenge for activists after the CPAC re-group is get out of our comfort zone and start working. It’s easy to get an applause line from the faithful but that isn’t going to grow the movement. Let’s go out into new communities and talk about how to strengthen our country through conservative values, making it relatable for every American. Let’s articulate our convictions on Spanish language media, at never-before attended conferences, on urban radio and minority communities. We must stop letting liberals define us. We must stop giving up on voters before the fight has even started.
There are many more steps that need to be taken before GOP success in 2016 but conservatives are moving in the right direction. Conservatives across the board recognize that America’s future is much more diverse and we must spread the message, not just to Hispanics but also to all demographics. Conservative principles are winning principles, but if conservatives don’t articulate these principles we are all doomed to failure.