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Gingrich Gets Latinos. Does the GOP?

Can conservatives follow Newt's lead before it's too late?

by
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Bio

December 13, 2010 - 12:00 am
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I might just be paranoid, but I don’t think I’ll be getting another invitation to dine at the Heritage Foundation, one of the nation’s top conservative think tanks. After all, the skunk never returns to the picnic.

Along with 30 or so other Latino conservatives, I was at Heritage to attend a Hispanic forum sponsored by the Latino-themed website www.theamericano.com. Its mission: to promote Latino issues and highlight the positive aspects of conservatism. Its owner and operator: Gingrich Communications. The website might or might not be simply an onramp into the Latino community for a certain presidential aspirant — who, I think, understands better than most of those in his party that Republicans can’t survive the country’s changing demographics unless they learn to kiss and make up with America’s largest minority.

We gathered informally the night before the conference began for dinner and dialogue. Heritage was gracious enough to provide the meeting space and host the event, but it didn’t organize it. Rather, the group was assembled by a couple of participants with big Rolodexes.

I was one of the first called on to speak. I used my 10 minutes to make what I thought were two obvious points: first, Republican elected officials need to learn to talk about immigration in an honest, fair, and reasonable way that doesn’t further offend and enrage the rapidly growing Latino segment of the electorate; second, the reason this situation needs triaging in the first place is because too many Republicans can’t seem to approach the immigration issue without pandering to a vocal contingent of racists and nativists within their base.

Well, as you can imagine, after that it was “Katy bar the door.” Most of the dozen or so people who spoke had something to say about my remarks. Most also agreed that there was some merit to them. There was also, however, some pushback. One Cuban-American conservative, from the Washington, D.C.-area, knew to my mind just enough about immigration (not the concept, but the debate) to fill a Dixie cup — with room left over for a splash of café con leche.

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