Senator Ted Cruz said Wednesday that Republican Mitt Romney's rhetoric about working class Americans — not an immigration stance that is similar to his own — cost the 2012 Republican presidential candidate support among Hispanics.
On the same day that one of his potential rivals for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, was touting a plan to provide legal status for many of the nation's illegal immigrants before a Hispanic audience in Cruz' home state, the Texas Republican defended his opposition to such a plan before a Hispanic business audience in Washington.
The two events, within hours of each other, highlighted one of the challenges facing Cruz: He is competing for Hispanic votes with Senator Marco Rubio and former Governor Jeb Bush, both of Florida and both of whom have deeper ties with the Latino community.
Hours after Bush delivered a speech to Hispanic evangelicals in Houston, Cruz became the first 2016 candidate to be featured at a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce forum series. He was questioned, at times pointedly, by the group's President Javier Palomarez, who previously questioned whether Cruz is abandoning Hispanics for political reasons.
In March, Cruz skipped the chamber's annual legislative summit, where Palomarez took exception to his absence. "I hope it is not indicative that he's backing away from the Hispanic community in order to get through the primary," Fox News Latino quoted him as saying.
Palomarez pressed Cruz for carrying different messages in his English and Spanish-language television ads. Palomarez asked Cruz why he has omitted references to his opposition to Obamacare and the president's recent orders easing deportations in his Spanish-language ads.
"I would encourage the same consistency in Spanish as in English," said Palomarez.
Though Cruz would not commit specifically to including his immigration and Obamacare positions in future Spanish ads, he added: "My messaging is going to be consistent throughout."
He advanced a theory as to why a candidate with his views can succeed with the Hispanic vote, insisting that Romney's tough talk on immigration had noting to do with the relatively anemic 27 percent of the Hispanic vote he mustered in his 2012 campaign.
"The media repeatedly said the reason Mitt Romney got clobbered in the Hispanic community was because of immigration," Cruz said during a question-and-answer session at the National Press Club.
"The data don't bear that out," said Cruz, adding that Hispanics care most about the economy. "The Obama economy has been a disaster for the Hispanic community," he said.
The reason Cruz Romney got "clobbered" was his "infamous comment" that Republicans don't have to worry about the 47 percent of all Americans vote reliably Democratic because they feel entitled to government services. "I can't think of a statement in politics I disagree with more strongly," said Cruz.
Like Cruz, Romney spoke in favor of actions to stem the flow of undocumented immigrations coming into the U.S. without supporting a path to legalization for those already here, though Romney also called for immigrant self-deportation.
Though Cruz is the son of a Cuban immigrant, he's at odds with many of Hispanic voters on some key issues, mainly immigration. Cruz has become a leading voice against President Barack Obama's recent orders easing deportations for individuals brought to the U.S. as children and for their parents.
He also voted against a 2013 bipartisan Senate bill to create a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants who pay a fine and have no criminal record. The bill, championed by Rubio, would have granted "amnesty" to illegal immigrants who've broken the law, Cruz argues. Cruz offered amendments he said would increase legal immigration. This year, there's no expectation that any immigration legislation is likely to move in Congress.
"There is no stronger advocate of legal immigration in the U.S. Senate than I am," said Cruz. At least one other potential candidate in the Republican field, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, has proposed reducing legal immigration at times of high unemployment.
Cruz represents Texas, where more than 37 percent of the population is Hispanic or Latino, a population that tends to vote Democratic. Last fall, a national poll by Latino Decisions found 89 percent support of Hispanic voters support Obama's use of executive authority to ease deportations.
Speaking to the Hispanic Chameber of Commerce, Cruz stood by his opposition to a path to citizenship that was included in the Senate's bipartisan bill, calling it "profoundly unfair to the millions of legal immigrants" who are here legally.
"Legal immigrants get left out and treated unfairly over and over again," said Cruz.