There’s a kind of unwritten rule in the current Republican politics. Saying poor children should be made to clean their schools like the little urchins in Oliver Twist is fine. Saying the country should take a compassionate stance toward some illegal immigrants? Well, ask Rick Perry. It’s not his terrible debate performance that stalled his campaign. It was that whole “you don’t have a heart” if you’re not cool with in-state tuition for illegal immigrant youngsters thing…
This Gingrich answer on immigration at the CNN debate will come back to haunt him:
I do not believe that the people of the United States are going to take people who have been here a quarter century, who have children and grandchildren, who are members of the community, who may have done something 25 years ago, separate them from their families and expel them. I do believe if you’ve been here recently and have no ties to the U.S., we should deport you. I do believe we should control the border. I do believe we have various penalties for employers, but I urge you to look at the Krieble Foundation plan. The party that says it’s the party of the family is not going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families who have been here a quarter century. I’m prepared to take the heat for saying, let’s be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families.
Here’s the video:
Now, we should mention that Gingrich’s idea is not entirely unlike his child labor idea: he wants to create essentially a second class of proto-citizenship, whereby illegal immigrants remain in the country quasi-legally in order to provide cheap labor, but never actually become citizens. And now that his front-runner status has clearly gone to his head, Newt’s clearly thinking past the primary to the general election, and the Hispanic vote. But that hasn’t stopped the right from shellacking Newt, like, immediately:
Michele Bachmann jumped on the Gingrich moment within minutes of Gingrich’s answer on stage. “Newt Gingrich’s Open Door to Illegal Immigrant Amnesty,” read a press release from her campaign. In an after-debate pullaside with a CNN reporter she also said, “if you’re legalizing 11 million workers, that sounds like amnesty to me.”
After the debate, Bachmann spokesperson Alice Stewart told TPM that differing with Gingrich on illegal immigrants doesn’t make a Republican a bad person.
“Just because you disagree with the Speaker doesn’t mean you’re on inhumane,” she said. “It’s a policy difference and she’s right on the issue and he’s wrong.”
In an interview after the debate, Gingrich was already on the defensive.
“That is just totally inaccurate,” Gingrich said in response to Team Bachmann’s release.
Another upshot is that Newt’s answer effectively forced Romney to tack way to the right on immigration, which will hurt him in the general election. Those soundbytes he gave tonight will live on. And as Andrew Sullivan pointed out tonight, Romney is already digging himself deep into Bushism on foreign and domestic policy.