In a widely quoted comment published in the Republican National Committee’s election postmortem earlier this year, arch-conservative politician Dick Armey had this to say about the GOP’s approach to immigration issues: “You can’t call someone ugly and expect them to go to the prom with you. We’ve chased the Hispanic voter out of his natural home” in the party.
Armey is one of many prominent Republicans — former President George W. Bush, his brother Jeb Bush, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal among them — who say Latinos are natural-born Republicans and who have called on conservatives to change their tune on immigration or risk permanently marginalizing the GOP.
Much of the mainstream right, it appears, has been listening. In an extraordinary rejection of the white nationalist rhetoric once broadly accepted within right-wing circles, mainstream conservative politicians and pundits were nearly unanimous in condemning a recent report by the conservative Heritage Foundation that claimed, contrary to predictions by researchers associated with both sides of the aisle, that immigration reform will cost the country trillions of dollars.
Criticism of the report went far beyond its assertions, soon settling on inquiries into the motives and beliefs of one of its two authors, Jason Richwine.
Soon after the report was released, it emerged that Richwine, who became a Heritage Foundation fellow in 2010, had claimed in his 2009 doctoral dissertation at Harvard that there are deep and persistent differences in intelligence between the races. “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 hard to argue against,” he wrote. To deal with this supposed problem, Richwine argued for testing potential immigrants’ IQs and excluding those with lower scores.
Richwine resigned from the Heritage Foundation soon after his dissertation was made public, and many mainstream conservative scrambled to distance themselves from him.
But Richwine did not rise to prominence in a vacuum, and some well-placed fellow travelers who share his ultra-nativist point of view were still quick to defend him. Chief among them was Charles Murray, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and co-author of The Bell Curve, a controversial 1994 book that argues that blacks and Latinos have lower IQs than whites and that most social welfare programs are doomed to fail as a result. Murray, who reviewed Richwine’s dissertation before it was finalized and who worked with Richwine when the latter was a fellow at AEI in 2008-09, published a full-throated defense of his former protégé in the conservative National Review Online on May 15, claiming that Richwine’s fall from grace is “emblematic of a corruption that has spread throughout American intellectual discourse.”