(Jim Clark) – At the last GOP presidential candidate debate, Newt Gingrich dealt with the subject of immigration thusly: “I don’t see how a party that says it’s the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families which have been here a quarter century. I’m prepared to take the heat for saying let’s be humane in enforcing the law.”
Politically speaking, that was quite a bombshell considering that Mitt Romney and Rick Perry were maneuvering to see who could sound the more hostile towards illegal immigrants and Michelle Bachman and Herman Cain were out-promising each other about the size and security of the Mexican border fence they would build.
Reactions to Gingrich’s remark were swift and unsurprising. Among many pundits’ responses, the Wall Street Journal’s op-ed screamed: “Gingrich stance a tough sell in Iowa;” the Washington Post editorialized about “Gingrich’s immigration crucible” and the Washington Examiner’s banner read: “Front-runner Gingrich gets immigration grief.” Was this a gaffe or a shrewd political move?
The statement should have come as no surprise. It’s consistent with Gingrich’s long established position on immigration and apparently only recently became newsworthy as he began polling as a frontrunner. Almost everyone recognizes that Gingrich is the smartest and most experienced of the GOP presidential candidates, so one might have guessed that his concern for the future of the Republican Party took in demographics and the fact that Hispanics are the fastest growing US population cohort.
Stephen Nuño, Ph.D., a political scientist at University of Northern Arizona and long-time registered Republican, has just published an article based on his scholarly work for Latino Decisions, a non-profit polling and analysis think tank. I see it is a stern warning to Republicans.
Titled: “Let’s be humane: Republican rhetoric on immigration reform and voter opinion,” Dr. Nuño writes that both Democratic and Republican rhetoric reflects an “assumption” that voters favor a “criminal model” of immigration rather than an “assimilation model.” Dr. Nuño points out that a recent Univision News/Latino Decisions poll casts serious doubt on that proposition. Poll results make it clear that a majority of Democrats and Independents are more likely to support candidates who espouse an assimilation (humane) approach to immigration while Republican respondents were about evenly divided. On the flip side, poll respondents, even Republicans, were less likely to support candidates who promoted the criminal model of immigration.
Not surprisingly, when the same polling questions were asked of Latino voters, the support for candidates who espouse the assimilation model was overwhelming regardless of party registration. Dr. Nuño cites Nevada as proof of the hypothesis.
He notes, concerning the rhetorical differences between the campaigns of Brian Sandoval and Sharron Angle, even though Sandoval was not entirely assimilationist, his rhetoric was not criminal whereas Angle ran television ads portraying Latinos as thugs. “Look who won,” he adds.
Dr. Nuño concludes: “The current Republican position on immigration coming from the primary (election) candidates will not only garner almost no advantage among whites . . . but risks further isolating the Party from (the Latino) demographic; it cannot afford to maintain its current trajectory (if) it is to remain a competitive national Party into the future.”
Gingrich’s concern about the future of conservatism is well known. He has for some time produced “the Americano,” an online newspaper in both English and Spanish aimed at Latino voters. This shrewd politician realizes that once the primaries and caucuses are over, the GOP winner must go head-to-head with Obama where independents and disaffected Democrats will decide the election.
It should come as no surprise that Gingrich is nudging the GOP towards an “assimilation model.”
(Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates and a member of the Washoe County & Nevada State GOP Central Committees.)
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