Ana Navarro, the National Hispanic Co-Chair for John Hunstman in the 2012 presidential race and current CNN political contributor, visited the Institute of Politics last quarter. Staff Writer, Liz Stark, sat down with Ana to discuss involving women in politics, changing demographics in the Republican Party and speaking her mind on national television.
The Gate: What is wrong to you about the idea of a “war on women”?
Ana Navarro: I think we have a couple problems: a problem of policy, a problem of tone, and problem of perception. I think the problem of perception is mostly a result of having a vocal minority in the Republican Party.
I think we need more women in Congress. We need more women candidates; we need more women chiefs of staff. We just need more women in every step of the political process, and I think that will make a difference. I'm glad to see that there are several women candidates that I think have a strong chance of winning.
Gate: Are you ever weary of being asked about the challenges of women running for public office?
Navarro: I'm not as focused on the woman thing. Look, I'm an immigrant. I'm Hispanic. I'm a woman. I have an accent. I'm sure I face challenges, but I'm not the type that sits down and reflects on challenges. I think if you think about challenges too much, they become that much bigger in your mind. I'm the kind of person who just plows through and sees challenges in any aspect of my life as part of the experience.
Gate: Rand Paul mentioned recently that he thinks Texas will become a blue state in the next decade, and that it could become a problem for the Republican Party. But do you see Hispanic outreach in states like Texas being forced or disingenuous?
Navarro: I don't think Texas will be turning blue in the next ten years, but it can certainly turn more purple. Hispanics in Texas tend to be more Republican than in some of the other states, and I think there are some Republican candidates in Texas who really get it, in terms of inclusiveness, when it comes to Hispanics and other groups. George P. Bush, who's half Mexican-American, whose mother is Mexican and speaks perfect Spanish, is running for state-wide office and stands a very good chance of being the next land commissioner in Texas.
So I think it's important for Hispanics to know that there are Hispanics in elected office in the Republican Party and that they can succeed and be part of the Republican Party and that they can participate. [Texas Senator] Jon Cornyn has been very good about reaching out to Hispanic groups. I follow some of his outreach and see him doing all sorts of events with Hispanic groups quite frequently, so I think there's some people in Texas who really do understand that the demographics have changed and that representing Texas means representing all of Texas, regardless of ethnicity or color or anything else. I think Texas will be red for a while longer.
Gate: How can Republicans appeal to Hispanic voters in the short term, for the midterm elections?
Navarro: We have a gap with Latinos, we have a gap with women, we have a gap with young people, we have a gap with Asians. I think it's the same formula with everybody. You have to do the work. You have to do the outreach. You have to sound and be and look inclusive. You have to draw more candidates from those different groups. You have to get more people elected, go out and really recruit candidates and campaign workers. Be more inclusive in every aspect. Diversity needs to be a very important part of the Republican Party, and they need to have diversity of thought, but also diversity in general…whether it's in campaigns or congressional offices or governors offices or grassroots groups. There needs to be a conscious effort on that end. There are also some policy issues that need to be addressed.
Gate: Is this less about the issues than the approach?
Navarro: I think the Republican Party needs to shake the perception of being the party of “no” and be the party that offers alternatives. I think we need to offer a positive vision for America, but also generate ideas and alternatives and proposals that reflect that optimistic view.
Gate: Given your work on Jon Huntsman’s campaign, what are your thoughts on getting a moderate candidate elected nationally?
Navarro: I hate labels. I hate sub-labels within the Republican Party. I want somebody who's focused more on being a Republican and being an American and less on whether they are conservative or moderate or progressive. We can go crazy looking for different sub-labels. I think it's less about labels imposed on people and more about a candidate who can be inclusive and grow the tent.
Gate: So rejecting any labels, is there such a thing as the "ideal" Republican?
Navarro: I don't think there should be an ideal Republican. That's one of the issues that we face—that there's this notion that there’s one type of Republican. We have to be accepting of a diversity of thought within the party. That means that some of us are going to be against gay marriage, but a lot of us are going to be for gay marriage. I don't think that there should be purity tests or litmus tests imposed on the Republican Party.
Gate: Why do you think Republicans feel the media is biased against them?
Navarro: I think unfortunately in the media a lot of times, what they're looking for is the quotable quote, the outrageous comment, the colorful personality—to have a great contrast between the two sides and have them screaming at each other all day long. So you end up with some folks that get much more media time than what their relevance is or what legislators or policymakers would suggest. A lot of times, you end up with folks in the media who are in the extreme of the party because what the media wants is to portray that contrast.
Gate: How do you think cable news has contributed to the polarization between Democrats and Republicans?
Navarro: It's almost like a chicken and egg situation…I think the media has portrayed it, sometimes exaggerated it…But on the other hand, the American people are watching the polarization. When you take a look at the ratings of FOX News or MSNBC, it seems that [the polarization] is appealing.
Gate: How can the Republican Party catch up with Democrats on the use of technology?
Navarro: With gusto, because there's no option. You cannot bury your head in the sand and pretend that the new digital options and ways of getting news don't exist. So you have two options: either you embrace it and figure out how to work with it, or you lose elections.
Gate: And a final, less serious question: Was there ever a time you were on television when you really wanted to say something, but couldn’t bring yourself to?
Navarro: [Laughs] You watch me on television [and] you know that I say most of what I want to say. One of the reasons that I chose being on CNN is because they allow you to voice your opinion. You're really not given any sort of editorial direction or boundaries. Certainly you can't say something that’s offensive, but so far I've pretty much managed to say what I want to say and not get into too much trouble.