WASHINGTON – Wadi Gaitan, a 24-year-old House Republican staffer who serves as a Spanish-speaking spokesman, TV booker and occasional tutor, was stumped. He was trying to teach a Republican lawmaker how to say sequester in Spanish, but the literal translation was proving to be problematic.
That one was tricky at first; I couldn’t figure it out, because in Spanish, secuestrar’ literally means to kidnap someone, Gaitan said. I said, let’s not use the literal translation, because we don’t want to say that we’re kidnapping people, or that President Obama is kidnapping people.
Now Republicans say recortes automaticos – literally, automatic cuts.
The proper way to say sequester – and debt ceiling, border security and other key phrases – has become a pressing concern for many Republicans, who worry that they are increasingly unable to make their case on the issues to the nation’s fast-growing Hispanic bloc simply because they are unable to speak their language.
It’s such a critical concern that House Republican leaders at the beginning of the year ordered an overhaul of their messaging operation, urging members to appear in liberal news outlets and, as often as possible, on Spanish television.
We’ve been absent from the conversation with Hispanic media for so long, anything can set back that progress we’ve made in the last eight months, so we are aggressive, just like we are in mainstream media, said Nate Hodson, spokesman for the House Republican Conference, the messaging arm of House GOP lawmakers.
Hodson recalled holding a meeting recently with the conference chairman, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and a longtime Spanish-language TV reporter. When it ended, I said, thanks for coming, Hodson said. And (the reporter’s) statement to me was basically, It’s about time.’
GOP leaders also announced last week a Rising Stars program to highlight younger conservative activists and politicians. The first wave includes a black state lawmaker from Oklahoma and a Hispanic state lawmaker from New Hampshire. The project is in response to a report issued by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus that explored how the party could attract more Hispanic support after 71 percent of Latino voters backed Obama last year.