With Republican Beltwaydom now agreeing that something must be done to bring Hispanics into the GOP tent, eyes have turned to Rev. Samuel Rodriguez as the Great Brown Hope. I fear the hope is misplaced.
Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, an organization that "not only strives to serve the 16 million Evangelical Hispanics in America but also, the NHCLC strives to serve the entire 40 million plus Latino Community." It sees itself as the Hispanic equivalent of the National Association of Evangelicals. Let's start with the numbers.
The best estimate we have--from Trinity's 2008 American Religious Identification Survey--is that non-Catholic Christians constitute 22 percent of the adult Latino population. According to the Census, there are now 50 million Latinos in the U.S. There's no way that there are more than 10 million evangelicals among them, given that a significant portion of the 22 percent are mainline Protestants, Mormons, and others outside the evangelical fold.
In terms of the electorate, of the 12 million Latinos who voted last week, the number of evangelicals would have been closer to two million than three.
Rodriguez and company could argue that the evangelical segment of the Latino population is growing, but that's not the case. While the number of non-Catholic Christian Latinos nearly doubled between 1990 and 2008, their proportion of the Latino population actually declined slightly relative to Latino Catholics. The big proportional growth came from the Latino Nones, who increased their share of the pie from six to 12 percent--3.8 million adults who identify with the Democrats over the Republicans by a 5-1 ratio.
Latino Nones will hardly be sympathetic to the evangelical values message, but neither will the other non-evangelicals. There is a fond Republican notion that Latinos are traditional folk susceptible to GOP social conservatism. Not true. They are actually more likely to support same-sex marraige and abortion rights than other Americans.
For his part, Rodriguez is far from a spiritually irenic figure. As the liberal blogger Greg Metzger points out, he has dabbled in Islamophobia and declines to cooperate with Catholics. His Christian Americanism harks back to the heyday of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.
No doubt, Rodriguez will serve as the poster boy for a Republican Party that understands it must embrace comprehensive immigration reform or give up all hope of recapturing the presidency. But as someone to lead Latinos into the Promised Land of Republicanism? Forget about it.