Newt Gingrich wants conservatives to hablar espanol, or at least show they care about Latinos

As the Hispanic population has grown in the United States, so has the number of Hispanics in government.
By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 1, 2010; 11:22 PM

Mid-morning on a recent Sunday, pausing between the studios of C-SPAN and Mass at the National Shrine, Newt Gingrich is in mental overdrive, as usual, merrily riffing on a not-so-usual theme: all things Latino.

He segues from what to do with 11 million illegal immigrants - "We're not going to deport all of them," he says - to security in Mexico, identity in Brazil, the economy in Argentina and back to the state of Hispanic America.

While he's on the subject, one would be remiss not to request a command performance of the Spanish he has been studying assiduously. Gingrich is game.

"Estoy cansado porque viajar para seis de los siete dias de esta semana," he says. ("I'm tired because I traveled for six of seven days this week.")

Hmm. He used the infinitive instead of the past tense, among the peccadillos.

But hey. He gets an A for effort. Gingrich is trying his darndest to reach out to Latinos - linguistically, culturally and ideologically. And that's his advice to fellow conservatives, some of whom have not seemed so embracing.

On Thursday in Washington, Gingrich's curious, intense, occasionally gaffe-prone relationship with Latinos and their language comes into full bloom with the opening of an unusual two-day forum he is hosting at the Washington Hilton.

Nearly 60 speakers on more than a dozen panels will offer a largely conservative take on domestic and hemispheric affairs of interest to Latinos. The speakers include Jose Maria Aznar, the former Spanish prime minister; Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico's ambassador to the United States; and Carlos Gutierrez, who served as commerce secretary during George W. Bush's second term in the White House.

Topics for discussion include: "Why Hispanics are Natural Conservatives" and "Hispanics and the American Experiment." A gala awards dinner Thursday will follow a concert by the Miami Symphony Orchestra.

This wonkish fiesta is not necessarily designed to boost a potential presidential campaign, says Gingrich, who has not yet made a decision on whether he will run in 2012. But it couldn't hurt. "There's a substantial number of Latinos now in Iowa," he says.

He adds, "You can't have a major party that doesn't pay substantial attention to the most rapidly growing single part of the country."

In House races last month, 60 percent of Latinos voted for Democrats. Republicans, however, boast of electing GOP Latinos to the Senate from Florida, to governorships in Nevada and New Mexico, and to several House seats.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company