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Navarrette: The Heritage Foundation is hurting Republicans

I want Latinos to have choices and be

I want Latinos to have choices and be courted by both parties. Otherwise, they will be politically irrelevant, written off by one party and taken for granted by another. Credit: Donna Grethen / Tribune Media Services

SAN DIEGO - Dear Heritage Foundation, you're not helping.

I assume you agree with the proposition that -- demographics being what they are -- it would be a good thing to thaw out the frosty relationship between Latinos and Republicans. Yet, your incompetence and insensitivity during the Jason Richwine debacle have brought in a new cold front.

What's the point of building bridges between Latinos and the Republican Party if one of the nation's leading conservative think tanks is going to blow them up?

Frankly, I couldn't care less if Latinos never cast another vote for a Republican candidate.

Here's what I do care about -- that Latino voters see casting such a vote as a viable option. I want Latinos to have choices and be courted by both parties. Otherwise, they will be politically irrelevant, written off by one party and taken for granted by another. Competition keeps people on their toes.

That's the collateral damage of L'Affaire Richwine. Here's the background: Jason Richwine is a former senior policy analyst at Heritage and the co-author of a roundly discredited study that said the Senate immigration reform bill would cost taxpayers roughly $6.3 trillion over the next half-century. It was recently revealed that Richwine -- in his 2009 Ph.D. dissertation at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government -- made the goofy argument that Hispanic immigrants and their descendants were forever destined to be less intelligent than whites. He wrote:

"Immigrants living in the U.S. today do not have the same level of cognitive ability as natives. ... No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against."

It's not difficult, actually. Because, with the exception of the bedtime stories I read my children, there are no crystal balls. It's one thing to compare the IQs of immigrants and natives. It's another to predict how that immigrant's great-grandchildren will score on an IQ test 100 years down the road.

This kind of thinking is ugly, racist, and familiar to anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of the kinds of things that were said about German, Irish, Italian and Jewish immigrants in their day.

And so, with the dirty laundry of a senior policy analyst flapping in the wind, the Heritage Foundation faced a defining moment. And if you don't step up and define the moment, the moment will define you.

The Heritage Foundation -- and its leadership including its president, Jim DeMint, the former Republican senator from South Carolina who helped kill immigration reform in 2007 -- was defined poorly by at least three things it did wrong concerning Richwine.

They didn't vet him. Once the findings came to light, they tried to defend him. And they didn't immediately fire him. (He resigned.)

First, the vetting. Are we to believe that an institution that puts so much stock in research would -- before hiring a researcher -- not take a look at his previous research? On what else would they base their decision to hire him? Either they didn't look at his Harvard dissertation, or they looked and they didn't see anything wrong with it. And that's worse.

Second, the defending. Mike Gonzalez, Heritage's vice president of communications, was foolish enough to try to defend Richwine on a bilingual radio show hosted by a liberal Latino on a left-leaning radio network. Univision America radio's Fernando Espuelas sliced and diced Gonzalez while pressing him as to whether Heritage planned to fire Richwine. And Gonzalez was stuck between trying to distance the institution from its own researcher, and downplaying the offensiveness of his earlier research.

And third, not firing him right away. Once Richwine's dissertation was treated to the disinfectant of sunlight, why didn't Heritage just come out and dismiss him? That might have actually made the institution appear noble. Instead, it flinched and did nothing as Richwine was hit by more and more criticism. Finally, the researcher resigned. And Heritage came across as not only insensitive and tone-deaf but also cowardly.

What's next for the institution? I suggest it hold one of its forums. They can title it: "What the Republican Party Can Do to Attract Latinos." And the subtitle can be: "Look at Everything We've Done, and Do the Opposite."

For Latinos, especially those who are striving to accomplish something in this society, this story isn't just frustrating but hurtful. It reminds us that, as hard as we try, to some people we'll always be inferior.