As comprehensive immigration reform continues to stall in Congress and the GOP scrambles to appeal to a growing Latino population, two seasoned Republican operatives frequent the airwaves on mainstream media as purported voices of Latinos in America. But while Ana Navarro and Alex Castellanos may give an impression of diversity on cable television, what they really show is that both cable TV and the Republican Party have a shallow bench, relying heavily on two commentators—largely out of touch with majority Latino opinion—when they need a Latino voice.
Today you’ll find them all over cable TV, mostly on CNN but also MSNBC and Fox News. They are also familiar faces these days on the Sunday network talk shows, like NBC’s Meet the Press and ABC’s This Week. (ABC recently hired Navarro as a contributor, which means viewers will likely be seeing even more of her soon—TVNewser, 2/3/14.) Castellanos has made dozens of TV appearances since 2013, while Navarro has made hundreds.
As Extra! (9/12) has pointed out, Latino voices are rarely included in corporate media discussion. So any Latino voice receiving a consistent platform might seem like a step in the direction of inclusion.
These voices, however, aren’t just any voices. Professional political consultants, Navarro and Castellanos have both been advisers to Republican presidential campaigns: Navarro for John McCain and Jon Huntsman, Castellanos for Bob Dole, George W. Bush and Mitt Romney. They both were born in Latin America into families that fled leftist regimes: Castellanos’ family left Cuba in 1960 shortly after the revolution, while Navarro’s family left Nicaragua in 1980 after the Sandinistas overthrew the Somoza dictatorship.
There is no single Latino—or black, or gay, or female—perspective. Latino opinion is complex and often in flux. Still, some media find it easier to simply to ask their in-house Latino pundit for answers.
Castellanos, the older and more experienced operative of the two, is apparently so in tune with Latino opinion that CNN just asks him what Latinos think. After a Republican presidential primary debate in 2012 (1/27/12), he was asked by a CNN anchor, “Alex, who did the Latinos love?” Castellanos, CNN’s Latino whisperer, responded that Latinos “love strength–the strong father figure in the family.”
Also problematic is the fact that media generally boil down the politics of Latino Americans to a single issue: immigration reform. And even when it is covered, you’ll still find the vast majority of people chiming in on it in corporate media are white male politicians rather than immigrants or activists (Extra!, 5/13). So when Latino voters favor Democrats 2-1 over Republicans (CBS, 8/9/13), the GOP would seem well-served to flood the airwaves with party operatives that take moderate positions on immigration reform—an easier way to pass off those voices as something approaching “representative.” It’s no secret that the Republican Party cannot afford to continue to turn off some Latino voters with hardline conservative positions on immigration reform.
Enter Navarro.Her embrace of comprehensive immigration reform is in line with an evolving strategic pivot in the GOP’s immigration position. Navarro (Meet the Press, 8/11/13) went after Rep. Steve King (R.-Iowa) when he insinuated that immigration reform might grant citizenship to undocumented immigrants who are “drug smugglers.” By arguing with the likes of King, Navarro not only steers Republican talking points away from the screeching bigotry of the far right, she also tries to align the party with the latest Latino opinion polls. Castellanos has taken a similar approach with his support for same-sex marriage (Campaigns & Elections, 1/31/14).
Ultimately, though, even Navarro and Castellanos’ moderate conservative platform is out of sync with strong Latino support for healthcare reform (Huffington Post, 4/2/13) and President Obama (Pew Research, 10/11/12). Which is not to say that Latinos agree with the Democratic Party and Obama on everything; a majority polled don’t support his deportation policy, for example (Pew Research, 12/28/11). But when a majority supports “bigger government providing more services” (Pew Research, 4/4/12), conservative policies—regardless of which party banner they’re advanced beneath—are arguably incompatible with majority Latino opinion.
Navarro and Castellanos illustrate that trotting out a handful of voices to speak for an entire demographic in the name of inclusivity isn’t enough. With Latinos, media still marginalize them by reducing their politics to one issue—and their voices to two largely unrepresentative commentators.