Call 9-1-1! Rick Santorum just burned himself in Puerto Rico. Totally.Maybe it's a good thing he's heading to Missouri today.
The backlash over his "speak English" comment is too strong. He just got voted off the island.
One of his committed Puerto Rican delegates withdrew his endorsement. The president of the island's House of Representatives told him, in Spanish, "No!"
And Latinos in Puerto Rico and on the mainland exploded in outrage.
"It might play well in Alabama and Mississippi, but it's not going to play well in Miami or Santa Fe," Florida International University political science professor Dario Moreno said. "What they do not like is when people make anti-Hispanic statements. Statements saying that everybody in Puerto Rico needs to learn English might be taken by Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and other Hispanic groups as very anti-Hispanic. And, at the very least, insensitive and uninformed."
That, in case Santorum didn't understand, explains the reaction. But it's nothing compared to what Oreste Ramos, a former Puerto Rican senator and one of the island's 23 primary delegates, said as he yanked his support for Santorum.
"Although such a requirement would be unconstitutional, and also would clash with our sociological and linguistic reality, as a question of principle I cannot back a person who holds that position," Oreste said, according to El Vocero. "As a Puerto Rican and Spanish-speaking U.S. citizen, I consider the position of Mr. Santorum offensive."
It was El Vocero that sparked the firestorm. Or, actually, Santorum's comments as reported by the Spanish-language newspaper.
Wednesday, as a jubilant Rick Santorum trotted around the island fresh off his twin victories in the primaries in Alabama and Mississippi, El Vocero said Santorum told it Puerto Ricans would have to speak English if they want statehood.
"Like any other state, there has to be compliance with this and any other federal law," Santorum said, according to El Vocero. "And that is that English has to be the principal language. There are other states with more than one language such as Hawaii but to be a state of the United States, English has to be the principal language."
Trouble is, there is no such federal requirement. And, Puerto Ricans, proud of their culture and their language, bristled.
"We are not going to stop speaking Spanish," Jenniffer Gonzalez, president of the island's House of Representatives, told Univision. "They cannot require us to do something that they have not required any other state in the U.S. to do."
Thursday, trying to put out the blaze, Santorum said he was misquoted. But then he repeated that English needs to be a "condition" for statehood.
"I think English and Spanish - obviously Spanish is going to be spoken here on the island - but this needs to be a bilingual country, not just a Spanish-speaking country, and right now it is overwhelmingly just Spanish speaking. But it needs to have, in order to fully integrate into American society, English has to be a language that is spoken here also and spoken universally," Santorum explained to reporters in San Juan.
Then, asked if English would be a requirement for granting the island statehood, he said, "I think that would be a condition...That's how you integrate fully into American life. It's the best opportunity for you to be economically successful, is to speak English."
This from a guy who said that while he was in the Senate, colleagues used to call him "Senador Puertorriqueño." Puerto Rico is scheduled to vote in November on whether it wants to become the 51st state. Congress has the final say.
Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have both said they would support the people of Puerto Rico if they ask for statehood. Neither insisted on English as a pre-condition.
"To impose on Puerto Rico a condition that no other state has - it¿s unreasonable," Puerto Rico's nonvoting representative in Congress, Democrat Pedro Pierluisi, said on CNN on Thursday.
Pointing out that the island has two official languages, English and Spanish, Pierlusi called Santorum's view "narrow and limiting."
Even Santorum's campaign co-chairman on the island, Henry Neumann, was forced to admit how damaging the "speak English" comment was, even as he tried to lessen its impact.
"The majority of Puerto Ricans don't speak English, so they would feel threatened if a candidate would come backing statehood and saying that everybody would have to speak English," Neumann said in the New York Times. "He has never said that."
Friday, as Romney arrived to begin his weekend of campaigning in Puerto Rico, Santorum planned to spend his time in Missouri, where party members are finally awarding delegates from the caucus Santorum won there last month.
But FIU's Moreno said the damage is already done, for Santorum and the GOP.
"I think it hurts the Republican brand," he told the Associated Press. "I mean, Santorum is one of the two frontrunners for the Republican nomination. He has been trying to appeal to working-class voters and Catholic voters, and this really hurts his efforts and damages the brand."
Source: Terra/Carlos Harrison