Jorge Ramos, Voice of Latino Voters on Univision, Sends Shiver Through G.O.P.
By Jackie Calmes
DORAL, Fla. — Jorge Ramos, the Univision and Fusion television anchor who is often called the Walter Cronkite of Latino America, was in his suburban Miami broadcast studio when he all but pounced on the chairman of the Republican Party, Reince Priebus, who was appearing from Washington. The Republicans’ immigration policy is “deportations, deportations, deportations,” Mr. Ramos said. “Why?”
Mr. Priebus, who stared out from multiple screens in a control room here looking as if he would rather have been doing anything but talking to Mr. Ramos, insisted it was not so. But Mr. Ramos would not have it.
“The message,” he retorted, “is anti-immigrant.”
For years, Mr. Ramos largely aimed his ire at President Obama for breaking his 2008 campaign promise — made directly to Mr. Ramos — that he would propose an overhaul of the nation’s immigration system in his first year in office, and for deporting two million people since. Even after Mr. Obama announced late last year that nearly half of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants could apply to work without fear of deportation, Mr. Ramos confronted him during a Nashville forum for having “destroyed many families” by not acting sooner.
But Mr. Ramos’s focus has changed, he said in an interview here: “Now is the turn of Republicans.”
This weekend, the Spanish-language Univision and Fusion, its English-language venture with ABC News, will cover the first gathering of 2016 Republican presidential aspirants, at a conservative forum in Des Moines on Saturday organized by Representative Steve King of Iowa. Mr. King, an immigration hard-liner, is well known to Latinos for remarks like one claiming that most young border-crossers have “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana.”
That coverage follows Mr. Ramos’s in-depth reporting last week of House Republicans’ vote to block Mr. Obama’s immigration orders and deport up to four million people, mainly so-called Dreamers brought to the United States as children and the parents of American citizens. Given Republicans’ immigration stance, Mr. Ramos expects to cover more such stories through 2016.
And that has some Republicans worried.
“Remember what L.B.J. said, ‘When you lose Walter Cronkite, you’ve lost the war’”? said Matthew Dowd, a campaign adviser to George W. Bush, recalling the oft-cited if disputed story that President Lyndon B. Johnson said he lost “Middle America” when Cronkite turned against the Vietnam War. Among Latino voters, Mr. Ramos has the sort of influence and audience that Cronkite had more broadly among Americans in his day.
Mr. Ramos is “not only a journalist, he’s become the voice of the Latino constituency,” Mr. Dowd said. “And that’s where Republicans have to worry — you don’t want to lose Jorge Ramos.”
How Republicans are perceived among Latinos mattered little in the midterm elections last year, when the party won control of both chambers of Congress for the first time in Mr. Obama’s presidency. Turnout of Latinos and other minority voters was, as usual, much lower than for presidential elections, and most close contests were in places with few Latinos.
But in 2016, the Republican record will matter. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, who said during the campaign that undocumented residents should “self-deport” — a position he defended in an interview last November on Univision — got only 27 percent of Latinos’ votes. Republican strategists say their 2016 nominee must exceed 40 percent to win. The last Republican candidate to do so was Mr. Bush, who had supported a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Early signs in both the Republican-run Congress and the presidential nomination race suggest how far Republicans have veered from the immigration course recommended two years ago when the party, at Mr. Priebus’s direction, produced an autopsy of Republicans’ 2012 losses that concluded that they must do more to engage Latino voters and propose “positive solutions on immigration.”
Republicans “should pay a lot of attention” to Mr. Ramos, said Carlos M. Gutierrez, a commerce secretary to Mr. Bush. “When Steve King made that terrible comment about kids with legs the size of cantaloupes, that was on Spanish-language TV the same day,” Mr. Gutierrez recalled.
But Sean Spicer, communications director for the Republican Party, suggested that because Mr. Ramos had become such an activist on immigration policy, “he’s now taken with a grain of salt.”
“There’s no question that he’s important and that he has a lot of influence, but I think that people now have sort of recognized that he’s more of an advocate than a journalist,” Mr. Spicer said.
He echoed a point that Mr. Romney made in November to Mr. Ramos’s co-anchor at Univision, María Elena Salinas: Latino voters care as much or more about education, health care, jobs and the economy as they do about immigration.
“What’s disappointing,” Mr. Spicer said, “is that Jorge doesn’t want to have that conversation.”
Mr. Ramos disputed that he was interested only in immigration and cited the range of issues he covers on the nightly news program “Noticiero Univision”; his Sunday show, “Al Punto”; and his weekly program on Fusion for young Latinos and other millennials, “America With Jorge Ramos.” He said that for Latinos, “just like for the rest of America,” the economy and education were the most important issues.
“But immigration is personal,” he said. “Immigration is the issue that tells us who is with us and who is against us; there’s no question about it. And it’s very simple to understand why — half of all Latinos over 18 years of age were born outside the United States. It really makes no sense to attack them and criticize them if you want their vote.”
The issue is also personal for Mr. Ramos, 56, who has the smooth, silver-haired look of a classic television anchor. Born in Mexico City, he came to the United States as a young journalist, and by 28 he was an anchor for Univision. In 2008, he became an American citizen. Univision is a media goliath, but with the 2013 debut of Fusion in English, Mr. Ramos’s reach expanded significantly, and with it the attention of American politicians.
Both parties now view him with trepidation. Last summer, after Speaker John A. Boehner spurned his interview requests, Mr. Ramos traveled to Capitol Hill and asked the speaker at a news conference about why he would not allow the House to vote on a bipartisan, Senate-passed immigration bill.
Representative Luis V. Gutiérrez, Democrat of Illinois, said he told Mr. Obama when the two flew to Las Vegas for the president’s announcement of his immigration orders that Mr. Ramos, on the air, had called it the most significant action for Hispanics in 50 years. “He said that?” Mr. Obama replied, according to Mr. Gutiérrez. But Mr. Ramos had no such praise when he later interviewed the president in Nashville, only questions about why Mr. Obama had long said he lacked the power to act.
That interrogation, like some of Mr. Ramos’s five others with Mr. Obama, drew approving attention on Fox News. Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly both had him on their shows afterward. But each man turned hostile when Mr. Ramos shifted to criticize Republicans and said their opposition to immigration legislation had forced Mr. Obama’s hand.
“It is unfortunate that we’re concentrating on President Barack Obama in our discussion,” Mr. Ramos told Mr. Hannity. “It is really John Boehner and the Republicans who blocked immigration reform.”
“That is a cheap shot,” Mr. Hannity replied.
Mr. Ramos said he did not expect to get another interview with Mr. Obama. And when Republicans, days after his interview with Mr. Priebus, released their roster of televised debates for presidential candidates, Univision and Fusion were not among the chosen media hosts.
Mr. Ramos responded with what has become his mantra. “The new rule in American politics is that no one can make it to the White House without the Hispanic vote,” he said. “So we still expect all candidates from both parties to talk to us.”
To read the article, click here.