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GOP Outreach to Latinos Draws Fire from Conservatives

Who’s afraid of a little outreach to Latinos by moderate Republicans? Both the hard right and the hard left, it seems, albeit for different reasons.

The left is easy to figure out. They benefit from the status quo and the virtual monopoly that the Democratic Party holds on Latino voters, an unearned benefit if ever there was one.

The Obama administration has proven that. It regularly plays Latinos for chumps, using the immigration issue as both a carrot and a stick. Aware that many Latinos favor a comprehensive approach that secures the border but also provides a pathway to legal status for the undocumented, President Obama will — on Cinco de Mayo or whenever he speaks to a Latino audience — promise to deliver just that. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, his administration — specifically, the Department of Homeland Security — has continued the same workplace raids that Obama criticized while running for president and seems to be trying to set a record for deporting as many illegal immigrants as possible.

In fact, during a recent speech in El Paso, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano bragged that the administration has deported nearly 800,000 illegal immigrants in its first two years. There was no applause from the left, who voted for Obama in part because he criticized a system where Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents “terrorized” families and local communities. Well, who is doing the terrorizing now?

But what’s more interesting is why the right has its knickers in a twist over attempts by prominent Republicans such as Newt Gingrich, Mike Pence, Norm Coleman and Jeb Bush to mend fences with Latinos, many of whom are upset over the GOP’s harsh language on immigration, and convince them that Republican candidates want their votes. The “kiss and make up” tour is not an officially sanctioned activity of the GOP. But it is terribly necessary given that Latinos are expected to make up 30 percent of the U.S. population by 2050.

One stop on the tour was Miami, where Coleman and Bush recently helped convene the inaugural meeting of the Hispanic Leadership Network, a new organization that intends to act as a bridge between Hispanics and the “center-right” movement.

I was invited to participate as part of a media panel. The whole event was on the record, and there was a good amount of press in the room.

Bush made headlines when he told the two hundred or so people in the audience that, because of the growth of the Latino community, it would be “incredibly stupid” for Republicans to ignore the Latino vote.

I’ll co-sign that. And I’d add that what would be even more stupid would be for Republicans to continue to do what they do now, which is far worse than ignoring. These days, many Republicans antagonize Latinos by using them as piñatas to entertain white constituents — or, worse, boogey men to scare up votes. This is the modus operandi for too many in the GOP who are content to use Latinos as a convenient foil.

And yet, it seems not every conservative wants to kiss and make up with Latinos. Some just want to fight. And they resent being treated like the problem children of the GOP. So that leads them to go on the defensive and slug it out with anyone who is offering Latinos an olive branch.

This includes the racist and reactionary website, vdare.com, which quickly published a snarky piece about the conference — the basic point of which seemed to be that these kinds of overtures were foolish, unnecessary, and racist because they targeted a specific ethnic group: Latinos.

It also includes radio talk show host Mark Levin, who slammed Bush for his remarks. According to Levine, they were nothing less than “divisive” and “destructive of conservatism.” The host accused Bush of “race-baiting” and of not being “that bright.”

Repairing the breach between Republicans and Latinos won’t destroy conservatism. It will extend its life by giving it a heart transplant. And the greatness of this nation isn’t defined by cultural uniformity but rather by its immigrant traditions. It has always been thus. Pick up a history book. It’s not like Latinos are the first ethnic group to get schmoozed by a political party. If it wasn’t considered the end of civilization a hundred years ago when the folks getting courted were Italian, Irish or Jewish, why is it any different today?

Besides, in the final analysis, what are the critics so worried about? It’s not like Jeb Bush insulted the Republican Party, and so they had to rush in and defend its honor. I did some GOP-bashing in my remarks. But Bush simply warned his fellow Republicans that they couldn’t afford to ignore Latinos. Do his detractors really want to take the opposite view, and argue that the party should disregard a group of voters?

If so, they shouldn’t be surprised when, come election day, Latinos return the favor.