Newt Gingrich has come a long way since criticizing Latinos a few years ago for continuing to speak “the language of living in a ghetto.” He’s taking Spanish lessons, reaching out to Hispanic community leaders, and supports “finding a way for residency” for some illegal immigrants.
But mounting a successful presidential bid means winning over GOP primary activists — many of whom favor a hard-line immigration crackdown — and that means Gingrich’s moderate positions could spell big trouble for him in the early-voting states, strategists say.…snip…He recently attended a Texas conference on strengthening Latino and Jewish dialogue, and regularly publishes op-eds in Spanish.
Gingrich launched “The Americano,” a bilingual news website for Latino conservatives, and in December hosted a two-day forum featuring prominent Latino politicians, religious figures and business leaders. There he declared, “We are not going to deport 11 million people. There has to be some zone between deportation and amnesty.”
And in February he sparred with Howard Dean over the DREAM Act. “Residency is very different than citizenship,” Gingrich stressed, proposing that it should be available to people who serve in the military or entered the country as children.
The immigration-reduction group NumbersUSA, which waged war on John McCain in 2008, has already set its sights on Gingrich. The group, which advocates stricter controls on both legal and illegal immigration, has given his immigration agenda a D- grade — the worst of its ranking of the GOP presidential contenders.
Other 2012 Republican candidates haven’t gone as far as Gingrich.
Tim Pawlenty has pushed for the increased use of E-Verify, an Internet-based system that allows businesses to determine if their employees are eligible to work. Haley Barbour, when confronted about his lobbying firm’s promotion of a path to citizenship for Mexican illegal immigrants, denied his own involvement. Mike Huckabee has said there’s zero chance of passing comprehensive immigration reform that includes such a citizenship pathway. Michele Bachmann told an Iowa audience that she whole-heartedly agrees with Republican Rep. Steve King, an immigration hard-line. And Mitch Daniels recently said he expects Indiana’s immigration bill to focus more on employers than law enforcement.
Of all the potential 2012 candidates, it’s Gingrich who has been floating new ideas, such as tasking credit card companies with creating guest worker ID cards that track workers’ legal status with a simple swipe.
“He’s doing something very smart — he’s doing it early,” said Ana Navarro, who served as national co-chair of McCain’s Hispanic Advisory Council. “All of these guys need to understand you can’t show up and ask for the Hispanic vote three months before [the general] election. It’s got to start now.”
But Gingrich’s views won’t help him with the tea party, which is expected to be influential in some of the early states.
The largest coalition of tea party advocates, Tea Party Patriots, recently chose Arizona as the site of its first policy conference in a show of support for the state’s crackdown on illegal immigrants. And many activists are dead set against allowing illegals to have any type of a legal status in the U.S.
Aides to Gingrich are hoping what they describe as the former Speaker’s nuanced views on the issue will aid his presidential bid.
He’s advocated a multi-step approach that first addresses border security problems and employers hiring illegal workers. And he has been quick to recognize the complexities of deporting people who are married with children, or a student who, say, was smuggled over the border at age 3, but has since graduated from a Texas high school and doesn’t speak Spanish.
Yet that hasn’t stopped right-wing bloggers and talk radio from tearing Gingrich apart, claiming that he has backed amnesty and a path to citizenship for illegals.
“Newt has never laid a pathway to citizenship and he has not offered a definitive policy on legality either,” said his spokesman Rick Tyler, who also noted that Gingrich plans to focus on economic issues, not immigration, during the primary contests.
Hispanic groups are banking that Gingrich will stand behind his principles and not pander to his party’s conservative base during the primary season.
When his “ghetto” comment sparked a firestorm in 2007, Gingrich made amends with a three-minute apology on YouTube — in Spanish. It’s that kind of respect that’s enabled him to make inroads among Latinos since his days in public office, said Leslie Sanchez, a Republican strategist who worked with Gingrich during his time in Congress.
To recap, just as Newtie is a newly religious Catholic, devoted family man, and faithful husband, and he now loves and respects Hispanics and Jews. Color me convinced! Now, when does he show up with the Afro?