What Gingrich and Dubya Have in Common

Talking Points Memo sheds some light on Newt Gingrich’s ongoing effort to appeal to Hispanic leaders:

As Benjy Sarlin reported back in 2009, Gingrich was using social networking and TV appearances on Spanish language TV to ingratiate himself with the Hispanic community and attempt to grow the GOP base there. Republicans have long felt they have a real chance to grab big swaths of the Latino vote, which they say is naturally more socially conservative and open to Republican ideas.

Gingrich continued the outreach early into his campaign. As Time’s Michael Scherer reported in May, Gingrich gave one of his first post-campaign announcement interviews to Univision, where he took questions on immigration and previewed the path to legal status for the millions of illegal immigrants already in the US that’s led to attacks from his Republican rivals.

Given the extent to which Latino voters are well-aware of the Republican Party’s hostility toward their interests—from efforts to help the economy to immigration—I have my doubts about whether Gingrich will gain from his efforts. But his priorities are in the right place; at this point, it’s almost banal to note the extent to which the GOP will need a healthy share of the Latino vote to compete in future elections. The more Republicans alienate Latino voters with their anti-immigrant rhetoric, the more likely it is that they harm their medium and long-term standing with the demographic. What’s more, it’s better—if only for the sake of our politics—if nativism is banished from acceptable political discourse. Regardless of what you think of him, it’s a good thing that Gingrich has shied away from attacking immigrants as somehow a danger to the country.

This isn’t so different from what George W. Bush tried to do with comprehensive immigration reform in 2007. Bush understood, correctly, that the GOP could strengthen its position if it took a moderate position on immigration and undocumented immigrants. But his attempt to move the GOP toward greater inclusiveness backfired, ambitious Republican politicians learned their lesson, and comprehensive reform was set back for the forseeable future.

As such, for now, it’s far more likely that we’ll see Republicans adopt the Mitt Romney approach to immigration—routine demonization of immigrants (and the classy use of dehumanizing language), combined with draconian policy proscriptions. As Ed Kilgore points out, opposition to immigration is one of the animating forces in the GOP primary, and as long as Republican voters maintain their intense hostility to anything that smacks of leniency, we can expect the Gingrich position to be the minority one among Republican politicians.