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.
This dissenter insisted that I was overstating the problem, pointing to the GOP’s rather respectable showing — all things considered — with Latino voters in the midterm elections. According to exit polls, more than a third of voting Latinos cast their lots for Republican candidates. That took a lot of observers by surprise.
No matter. Anytime you’re losing customers to your competitor at a rate of 2 to 1, you’re bleeding red ink. Besides, the places where Republicans did best with Latinos — in states like New Mexico, Texas, and Florida — were also the places where the immigration issue was dormant. That wasn’t the case in California (where you had a GOP gubernatorial candidate under fire for hiring an illegal immigrant) or Arizona (where you had a firefight over a divisive immigration law that all but requires state and local police to dabble in profiling of Latinos). Anyone who thinks that the GOP doesn’t have a problem with alienating Latinos is kidding himself and doesn’t know much about either the GOP or Latinos. Unfortunately, this is the dominant view in the Republican establishment. If it were otherwise, there wouldn’t be a need for a forum like the one put on by The Americano — and there is.
The good news? Like Ronald Reagan said, Latinos don’t have to be made into Republicans. Many of them already are Republicans but just don’t know it. Theirs is an inherently conservative community — on abortion, gay marriage, school choice, tax cuts, business development, smaller government, strong defense, and a host of other issues. But it’s also a community that craves and demands respect. And it won’t put up with being treated like a piñata for the enjoyment of an ugly racist and nativist fringe of a political party so much better than that.
That’s the truth. And the fact that some Republicans don’t like to hear it doesn’t make it any less true.