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Politics

Could Newt Gingrich help Trump rescue the Latino vote?

Despite his ties to the Latino community, he has a controversial track record on immigration.
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13 Jul 2016 – 5:57 PM EDT

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is one of several potential candidates for Donald Trump's vice presidential pick, which the presumptive Republican nominee will announce Friday.

But it’s unclear whether Gingrich, a more measured and experienced politician, can help rescue votes from those who are most disgruntled by Trump.

Other hopefuls include Indiana Governor Mike Pence and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, but some observers say Gingrich has the political experience necessary to help Trump. In contrast to the real-estate mogul - who has advocated for mass deportations and building a wall on the border - Gingrich has taken a different approach, avoiding inflammatory rhetoric.

And while Gingrich, Pence, and Christie have all stumped for Trump, only the former house speaker has a history of working on immigration.

In an April poll, Pew found that 62% of Latinos have an unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party - a record high since 1992. Plus, a record 13.5 million Latinos are expected to cast their ballot in November.

But will Gingrich's track record be enough to win over Hispanic voters?

Gingrich's controversial immigration proposal

"I consider [Gingrich] a good choice for Trump, because he would give strength and balance since he's someone who has political experience," said Roberto Izurieta, director of Latin American projects at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. In 1997, Gingrich helped pass an immigration bill that legalized thousands of Central American, Cuban, and Eastern European immigrants.

When Gingrich ran for president in 2012, his campaign sought to promote policies that allowed more Latinos to "achieve the American dream" and permitted more Latinos to assume leadership positions.

That year, Gingrich criticized President Barack Obama's failure to pass immigration reform and promised to address immigration on a platform that included security measures, employment verification, and swift deportations of criminals. He launched a site in Spanish and wrote columns for Spanish-language newspapers. In fact, he studies and speaks Spanish, a language Trump has shunned during his campaign.

But Gingrich's 2012 immigration reform plan wasn't well-received by the immigrant community.

He proposed giving residency to undocumented immigrants who'd been in the United States for at least 25 years and had no criminal record. And most controversially, he suggested setting up citizen committees, similar to World War II-era draft boards, to decide who should become a resident, based on merit. The new legal residents wouldn't have a path to citizenship, and would have to pay for their own health insurance.

The plan aimed to legalize only the undocumented immigrants left out of President Ronald Reagan's 1986 amnesty that gave residency to three million immigrants, the majority of them Mexican.

During his campaign, Gingrich also proposed a federal registration system for immigrants, which he compared to a FedEx tracking system, much like Christie did during his unsuccessful presidential bid.

Can Gingrich help Trump with Latino voters?

Analysts see a potential Gingrich selection as a strategic way for Trump to appeal to a broader electorate.

"We should expect changes [from Trump] that could include choosing a vice presidential candidate like Gingrich, who seems to be friendly to our community," said Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota, an organization that promotes Latino voter registration.

But others say that no matter what Trump does now, he doesn't stand a chance to win the Latino vote.

"Trump is betting on a change in the electoral equation in which the African-American and Latino vote have less weight," Izurieta said. "Even with Gingrich I don't think Trump will win much of the Hispanic vote but by his calculations, that won't stop him from winning the election."

Trump’s "speeches are very poisonous and racist," said Jose Pertierra, a Washington, D.C.-based immigration attorney. "With that kind of rhetoric, no vice president will attract the Latino vote, except for the vote of those Latino 'wannabes' who deny their own identity and pretend to be gringos," he added. "The overwhelming majority of Latinos will vote against Trump."

"The reality is that at this point, the damage to the Republican Party brand in our community is irreversible, at least for this election," said Monterroso. "The constant obstruction by Republicans on immigration issues has made our community willing to respond by voting."

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