BY RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.
No mas, Newt!
After two decades of watching the former House speaker wrestle clumsily with Latino outreach, I can’t take any more flip-flopping.
Newt Gingrich cannot seem to make up his mind about whether Republicans get more benefit from approaching America’s largest minority with an open palm — or a clenched fist.
Judging by a recent appearance on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” — which is must-see TV for nativists — Gingrich is gambling on the fist these days.
Gingrich said that Democrats are trying to make it legal for non-citizens to vote and that this is why they’re soft on illegal immigration.
It’s a fine theory — except that illegal immigrants don’t seem all that eager to vote when the choices are between “bad” and “worse,” and Democrats are often harder on illegal immigration than Republicans. Compare Democrat Bill “The Hammer” Clinton with Republican George W. “Open-Borders” Bush.
Undeterred by fact, Gingrich told Carlson that Democrats can’t win the votes of “law-abiding Americans.”
By “law-abiding Americans,” we can assume that Gingrich is not talking about former Trump campaign advisers or ex-Arizona lawmen who defy federal judges.
Gingrich also took a jab at fellow Republicans for not pushing for tough immigration laws, including a crackdown on those mythical “sanctuary cities” that don’t actually offer much sanctuary. Republicans “lose their nerve,” he said, because the liberal media “smears” them by calling them “xenophobic” and “anti-foreigner.”
I’ve written about Gingrich and Latinos since the second term of the Clinton administration, when the former assistant professor at West Georgia College (now the University of West Georgia) was the leader of the opposition.
In 1998, Gingrich was so preoccupied with the looming impeachment of President Clinton that he missed a revolution that was brewing under his nose. Far away from Washington, GOP mayors and governors were doing very well with Latino voters. They included Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Arizona Gov. Jane Hull and Texas Gov. George W. Bush. All of them got more than 30 percent of the Latino vote, which threw their Democratic opponents off balance because they had lost a big chunk of a core constituency.
About these impressive inroads, Gingrich was not impressed. I know this because during the week of the 1998 midterm elections, Gingrich was in Phoenix for a fundraiser. At the time, I was a columnist for the Arizona Republic and a guest host at a local conservative talk station. So, I got to interview Gingrich twice in one day. I asked him both times whether the national GOP couldn’t learn something from the success that local and state officials were having with Latino voters.
Gingrich replied that, if the GOP were a strong party, Latinos — and all voters — would find their way to supporting Republican candidates.
But by 2007, it was a Newt day. After he got in hot water for saying that Spanish was “the language of living in a ghetto,” Gingrich — who had been taking Spanish lessons — over-corrected by posting a video statement on YouTube in both English and Spanish. He said that he has “never believed that Spanish is a language of people of low incomes, nor a language without beauty” and that it was “not my intention to offend the Latino community.”
In 2009, Gingrich tried to ride the Latin wave by launching a bilingual, Latino-themed website — dubbed “The Americano” — to promote conservative viewpoints and Latino heritage. About the same time, he proposed a “zone between deportation and amnesty” that would allow illegal immigrants to work legally in the United States.
Amnesty Newt pandering to Latinos en Español? What would those fire-breathing immigration hardliners say?
In November 2011, while running for the 2012 Republican nomination for president, Gingrich suggested that one way to keep immigrant families together was to issue “red card” visas that would allow the undocumented to remain in the United States legally.
But, later that same month, he veered to the right again by promising to make English the official language of the United States and applauding states like South Carolina for trying to make their own immigration laws.
Now Gingrich is back to talking tough in the culture wars even if it alienates the same Latino voters he once tried to court — in Spanish, no less.
They say familiarity breeds contempt. I’ll buy it. I’m so familiar with Gingrich’s double talk to Latino voters that contempt is all I can muster.
Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. His email is [email protected] com. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available on apps.