Bill Moyers once asked Pastor Sam Rodriguez (the president of the nation’s largest coalition of Latino churches) who his political heroes are. Sam told him “JFK and Ronald Reagan.” Moyers asked him how he could reconcile the two, but there really is no need to reconcile them. JFK and RR were, Sam told him, ideologically quite similar. Seems right to me: Both were staunch anti-communists, and both were tax cutters. I suppose if there’s much difference in economics it’s that JFK was an outspoken public advocate of the gold standard whereas Reagan delegated that policy decision to a commission which was unable to come to consensus.
This is a time for the GOP to go back to its recent roots in Reagan, and its original roots in Lincoln. Justice is the in the DNA of the party, and it was the party of choice for African-Americans for almost a century. Reagan turned it into the party of economic opportunity. A growth party is exactly what the immigrant segment of America needs. And the immigrant segment of America is exactly what a growth party needs.
I recently sat down across a Skype connection from Pastor Sam to talk with him about the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment among Republicans and about what the GOP can do to become a multi-ethnic governing coalition again.
Here’s a partial transcript (edited for clarity) of what he said:
Jerry Bowyer: Pastor Sam, how we can rebuild that multiethnic universal party that can be the true base for black, white, Latino, Asian, for everybody, with a common-sense conservative agenda? So, what do you tell them is the game plan that morning?
Pastor Sam: The game plan would be this. Immediately pivot and reintroduce the party, remake the party, branded in the following manner: This is the party of Abraham Lincoln, the party of Jack Kemp, the party of Ronald Reagan. Indeed. This empowerment zone, the compassionate republican conservative who cared about African-Americans and Latinos in the urban centers of America and understood the tragedy of what happened with LBJ’s program, but had a very strong compassionate underpinning because of his faith values. This is the party of Abraham Lincoln and Jack Kemp and the party of Marco Rubio and the party of Ronald Reagan, this is that party. And let me tell you what we’re going to do from this moment on. We need to work on getting thirty-five percent of the Latino vote. We need to be at fifty percent in ten years. Forty-four percent voted for Bush in 2004. Here’s how we’re going to do it. How did George W. Bush do it? He spoke Spanish in campaign stops. He affirmed the Latino community wherever he went. He talked about the future of America, being possibly even in the hands of a Latino community, and how there’s God-fearing hard-working family loving community reflected the best of our American value system. That’s how George W. Bush did it. Ronald Reagan alluded to the same concept in 1986.
So, it’s that engagement. Affirm the communities. Focus on our Judeo-Christian value system. Say this is the party that will protect your religious liberty. This is the party that will protect your values. If you go to church on Sunday, but not just white evangelicals, if you go to church on Sunday and care, we’re going to redeem the justice imperative. We are the party that was founded upon a justice imperative ending slavery. Abraham Lincoln wrote we will recapture justice. Without recapturing justice, we will never occupy the White House. So, it’s for us to say this is what justice looks like.
Let me tell you what compassion looks like and demonstrate compassion, incorporate justice, become multiethnic, multigenerational.
Speak about limited government in a different way. Speak about the fact that it is not God’s will for you to depend on Uncle Sam in perpetuity because it’s basically baking bricks without straw. God doesn’t want you to survive; He wants you to thrive. And Uncle Sam may be your uncle, but he will never be your heavenly father.
Use that tag line, Uncle Sam may be your uncle, but he is not your heavenly father. And the Republican Party believes that your heavenly father has gifted you with the gifts and the abilities to thrive. And we want to help you get there. And that’s the message my friend.
Originally published on Forbes.