Newt Gingrich On Immigration: A Perry Moment?
Newt Gingrich spoke some truth on immigration last night, and that might hurt him with Republican voters.
As James Joyner already noted in his wrap-up of last night’s Republican Foreign Policy Debate, one of the major eyebrow raising moments came toward the end of the two-hour affair when the subject of immigration came up and Newt Gingrich, the putative frontrunner, went off the conservative ranch:
Did Newt Gingrich have a “heartless” moment on Tuesday night?
In a September debate, Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, drew a furious response from conservatives in his party when he said critics of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants “did not have a heart.” The response halted Mr. Perry’s momentum amid charges from rivals that he was too soft on the issue of immigration for the party faithful.
Now, Mr. Gingrich — the newest leader in the national polls — has embraced a similar apostasy: the idea that the country should find a way to make many millions of illegal immigrants legal.
“There’s a way to ultimately end up with a country where there’s no more illegality, but you haven’t automatically given amnesty to anyone,” Mr. Gingrich said, citing a program from the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation.
That was enough for Mr. Gingrich’s rivals to pounce. Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, refused to allow Mr. Gingrich to claim that his suggestion was different than amnesty.
“If people who come here illegally are going to get to stay illegally for the rest of their life, that’s going to only encourage more people to come here illegally,” Mr. Romney said.
Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnestota agreed with Mr. Romney. “I don’t agree that you would make 11 million workers legal, because that in effect is amnesty,” she said.
Mr. Gingrich responded by pressing his case that the country — and the Republican party — would not be served by forcing the exile of immigrants who had been in the country for years, paying taxes and staying out of legal trouble.
“I don’t see how the party that says it’s the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter century,” Mr. Gingrich said during the debate. “And 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.”
It’s worth watching the exchange in full:
Not surprisingly, the rival campaigns didn’t stop their critiques of Gingrich’s statements after the debate ended:
Before the candidates left the Washington debate stage, Michele Bachmann’s campaign blasted out an email declaring that, while speaker, Gingrich “ultimately failed to secure the border or significantly staunch the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States. In fact, he helped legalize hundreds of thousands.”
Bachmann spokeswoman Alice Stewart, in an interview following the debate, doubled down on that criticism.
“Speaker Gingrich [showed] he’s wrong on the issue of immigration and amnesty’s not the way to deal with it,” she said. “Amnesty is certainly not the way to go about doing it.”
An adviser to Mitt Romney, who has drilled Perry for weeks on immigration, said Gingrich did himself no favors, particularly in socially conservative Iowa, where the first caucuses will be held.
“Gingrich really hurt himself in Iowa on immigration,” said Romney adviser Ron Kaufman.
Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom also played up Gingrich’s comments, seeking to draw a clear contrast between Gingrich and Romney.
“Mitt Romney is against amnesty, and Newt Gingrich made it very clear he supported amnesty,” he said.
The obvious parallel that people are drawing this morning is to the moment in a September debate when Rick Perry referred to people who were opposed to the in-state tuition program that Texas had extended to illegal immigrants as “heartless,” a moment that combined with all his other debate disasters likely led to his final fall from his brief run as a GOP frontrunner. Like Perry’s position, of course, there isn’t really anything wrong with what Gingrich said last night. Granting incentives to stay in school to students regardless of their immigration status is a good idea, not just for them but for the c0mmunity that they live in. Similarly, we’re never going to deport people who’ve lived here for decades, having families, and are contributing to society no matter how much the most virulent anti-immigrant Republican might want to think we are. In that respect, Perry and Gingrich actually deserve some credit for speaking the truth here rather than pandering the way that Bachmann and Romney, and no doubt other candidates in the days to come, did in response to Gingrich.
Of course, that’s what should happen. The question here, really, is what will happen. Gingrich’s words are unlikely to play well among Republicans in Iowa and South Carolina, and that’s the reason that Bachmann and Romney jumped on him so quickly last night, and the reason that the candidates went after Perry on the tuition thing in September. So, regardless of whether or not Gingrich is right here (and, may lightening strike me dead, but I agree with Gingrich on this one issue) he could still end up paying a political price for what he said.
Commentary’s Jonathan Toobin expects Gingrich to suffer the same fate as Perry:
This is the same land mine that Rick Perry stepped on back in September when he was slaughtered by Romney and the other candidates for his willingness to give in-state university tuition discounts to the children of illegals. Perry never lived down his answer that those who opposed him “didn’t have a heart.” But by actually saying the dreaded “amnesty” word — albeit in the course of a typically professorial lecture about Ronald Reagan’s own support for such a measure that Gingrich backed when he was in Congress — the former speaker actually went much deeper than Perry did.
Perry made sense on this issue, as did Gingrich tonight. But the consequences for Gingrich should be swift and severe. If Perry’s heresy on immigration hurt him badly in Iowa, there’s no reason to believe an even more extreme position by Gingrich will not turn his current high hopes in the Hawkeye state to dust.
Allahpundit, however isn’t so sure:
What you’re seeing here, in fact, is really just a rewrite of the latter’s infamous point about heartlessness by a guy who’s much slicker at debating. Neither one is endorsing citizenship for illegals, just greater integration of those who have been here long enough that uprooting them would cause great personal disruption. Gingrich’s position is arguably more defensible than Perry’s since he’s not calling for any taxpayer subsidies; Perry’s is arguably more defensible than Gingrich’s since he’s focused on kids who were brought here by their parents, not people who crossed the border illegally of their own volition. I think Newt’s going to get away with this partly because of the difference in tone — his answer seems even milder than it is thanks to the standard set by Perry’s “heartless” remark — and partly because, as we get closer to the general, the base will tolerate a bit more centrism on immigration in the name of wooing Hispanics in the general. We nominated McCain, didn’t we?
Of course, as Conor Freidersdorf points out, the fact that we’re talking about someone paying a political price for stating what in essence is little more than common sense says much about how screwed up the GOP has become on immigration issues:
[P]artisans have a tremendous capacity for cognitive dissonance, and many Republican partisans are powerfully attached to the idea that the rule of law demands the deportation of everyone who came here illegally. Those who have spent time reporting on the issue know what the grassroots would say to Gingrich: “What part of illegal don’t you understand?” This is, after all, the same crowd that cheers when Herman Cain jokes about an electrified fence on the Mexican border, another policy proposal that they haven’t thought through.
The ugliness is mostly rooted in failing to see that illegal immigrants aren’t abstractions. They’re people. Before damning the restrictionists who don’t grasp this, a failure for which they ought to be faulted, remember that most of us are guilty of the same behavior, whether we’re brooding about the vehicle ahead of us on the freeway, or cheering the drone strike that killed a terrorist and three unidentified persons, or insulting someone in an online comments section, or doing nothing for decades as prison inmates are raped and assaulted in state run institutions.
For obvious reasons, telling “deport ’em all” voters that they’re thoughtless or cruel is counterproductive. They can’t see it. They don’t feel as though they’re being cruel. Better to somehow convey, “It’s people we’re talking about!” and hope you get through. But doing so without offending is hard.
Gingrich would be a terrible president, but he deserves credit for trying, for saying what he knows to be true on this issue, even as Mitt Romney treats illegal immigrants as abstractions in order to compensate for his perceived squishyness on other issues. He is exploiting the abstractness.
It’s ugly to watch.
Indeed, it is. As I’ve made clear here many times over the past two weeks or so, I am by no means a fan of Newt Gingrich. I consider him a consummate opportunist who switches policy positions as often as the rest of us switch lanes on the highway, but somehow manages to clothe all of it in an intellectual veneer that makes people think “wow doesn’t he seem smart?” Like Conor, I think he’d make a crappy President and that anyone who supports limited government and supports him is fooling themselves. Nonetheless, he’s mostly right here, just as Perry was mostly right about in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. The problem that the GOP has on immigration is that they don’t see that these are people they’re talking about, not just numbers or some faceless class called “illegals.” Even when they laws they pass end up having disastrous impacts on the farming industry in states like Georgia and Alabama they still cling to the idea that they are somehow going to be able to pass some laws, put some agents on the border (or maybe a moat filled with alligators and electrified fence if your name is Herman Cain) and everything will be fine. It won’t, of course, but it makes for easy campaign rhetoric and the anti-immigrant voters in places like Iowa and South Carolina will eat it up. That may be smart politics, but it’s lousy leadership.
I don’t want Newt Gingrich to be President, I think the GOP would be foolish to nominate him, but if he ends up falling from his perch because he told the truth about immigration, that says a lot more about the Republican Party than it does Newt Gingrich.
I think it shows that New Gingrich does have a heart. I agree with his position on immigration but it’s ironic because he also supports English as the official language. This is from a man who has a Spanish-language Twitter feed and Web site called Newt Presidente. It’s obvious Newt is trying to appeal to Latino voters but he risks alienating Republican voters. Here’s my take from my Chicanisma blog.
First, it’s pretty pathetic that saying something sane and mildly compassionate about other human beings is demon fodder for the GOP. If he’d suggested gays might not be actively evil, he’d have been booed right off the stage. Second, I seriously doubt this will sink Newt the way it did Perry – Perry’s statements (I refuse to call showing some humanity a “gaffe”) simply because Perry’s statements weren’t the only thing that made him look terrible. Remember Perry’s debate performances? The man’s barely able to tie his own shoes.
No, what will sink Gingrich is when the other candidates start to get desperate & go deep on the oppo research into his personal life…
Everyone is looking at Romney as the best bet to beat Obama, and he might pull in off in this economy, but the Democrats are going to take everything Romney and the other Republicans have said about immigration in these debates and just shred the entire GOP in the minds of Latino voters.
Do those of you who agree with Gingrich on this also agree that these people should be made legal (if they qualify), but never be able to become citizens?
That seems like a really bad idea – a permanent second-class status for some people, and seems obviously a purely partisan move – he doesn’t want any of these people to ever have a chance to cast a ballot.
I don’t think this will effect Gingrich as much as Perry for a handful of reasons:
1) The tone was much different. Perry called the people who disagreed with him heartless; Gingrich did no such thing. And Gingrich mentioned they needed to be church-goers a couple of times. People might disagree with him, but I don’t think it would affect the gut reaction of “does he share my values?” Perry’s answer was an attack on those values.
2) Gingrich is much more a known commodity at this point than Perry was in September. The governor’s name recognition nationally was still south of 50% in September. Those first couple of debates were Perry’s chance to introduce himself to the primary electorate, so everything was going to be magnified. I do happen to think the “heartless” comment was the moment that spelled the end of Perry as a candidate, but the entire first few debates were a complete disaster. Gingrich has been much stronger.
Even if he stepped in it last night, this was nothing like the heartless moment, nothing like the oops brain fart, and nothing like Cain’s 9-9-9 getting demolished from all sides when he was having his moment in the sun last month. There may be an impact, but I think it is very small compared to the wide swings we’ve become accustomed to this campaign season.
This is why these debate set ups discourage candidates to be honest and speak with candor. No one has offered a realistic approach to the immigration issue. Obama and the Democrats won’t even talk about it. What are the candidates’ personal experiences with these people? I have found them to be hard working, kind and considerate, religious, family oriented, their children are smart and well behaved , and many of them know how to work the system (but that’s okay – they are resourceful and advance quickly). The image of them taking advantage of welfare and other handout programs is false. The crime rate among them is lower than other groups of the population, but always gets more publicity.
The political reality is that 2/3rds of Iowans (not just Republicans), a state that Cook Partisan Voting Index rates as having +1 Democratic leaning, would like a tough anti-illegal immigration law like that passed in Arizona. If you take decidedly minority views on issues you need to either have the power and ability to persuade people that your views are right, or you need to accept that you can’t be elected on this issue.
@Teresa Puente: His dead wife would disagree that he “has a heart”.
Newt was denied tenure at West Georgia College.
That’s all you need to know about “Professor” Gingrich’s intelligence level.
Neither of Gingrich’s ex-wives is dead.
I understand the disdain for Newt’s stance but no one has even mentioned what he prefaced his comment with. He stated that long before we ever get to the point of discussing how to deal with the people already here we must seal the border to ensure that no more get in. So that blows Romney’s retort out of the water because his only premise for disagreeing with Newt was the fact of it being a magnet. If the border is sealed it doesn’t matter if it is a magnet or not. Secondly, Bachmann kept using the phrase 11 million people would be allowed to stay. That couldn’t be further from the truth, the segment of immigrants that Newt is referring to would be far less than 11 million. In fact, under Newts proposal the vast majority of immigrants would be deported. So, really Bachmann and Romney did far worse for themselves by not understanding the proposal in its fullest before pouncing on Newt. Of course, that is nothing new. Most GOP candidates cannot hang with Newt in a debate and the outcome would be far more dismal for BHO. Lastly, with the economy the way that it is and tension being so high in the Middle East, who’s to say we will even get to have a national debate on immigration and certainly would be hard pressed to enact such a proposal during a presidential term. Now, back to my original statement, I completely understand your thoughts on Newts proposal but let’s take all of what he said and even more importantly let’s consider how ill prepared Bachmann and Romney were in their attacks because neither one of them had their facts straight before they pounced. It is becoming increasingly more evident that Newt has the brain, the solutions and the ability to articulate them more so than any other candidate on stage. He is consistantly smarter than every one around and history shows that nominating a middle of the road candidate like Romney will surely spell another 4 years of BHO. When conservatives run against liberals the liberals lose, when moderates run against liberals the liberal wins. McCain and Daddy Bush are prime examples of how to not act conservative to win a race.
@ponce: “Newt was denied tenure at West Georgia College. That’s all you need to know about “Professor” Gingrich’s intelligence level.”
I don’t know if Newt is all that smart when compared with regular folks. By political standards, he is practically a genius.
Well, Lomax, you speak with honesty and candor. I totally agree with you that the immigration issue has been botched and politicized to such a degree making it nearly impossible for either side to competently or creatively devise a comprehensive plan addressing illegal’s here.
Gingrich’s ideas were pragmatic and reasonable, IMO. What’s the purpose of deporting long term illegal families who have developed working ties with this country? He also didn’t lend details to his plan, explaining how long a legal status would be held by people before qualifying for citizenship status. This was unclear, and is an assumption by some that it was meant to be a forever or permanent second-class status for some people, which would then open the door as being a purely partisan move.
I would second-guess that since Gingrich was on board with Reagan’s amnesty program in the 80’s, that he would be open, as well, to granting citizenship to people here illegally, after certain conditions were met. In fact, he did clarify Reagan’s amnesty program, saying there were three parts to that Amnesty program: granting amnesty; closing the borders; and I think the third was setting up a worker’s program. Only the first happened, while the other two didn’t. The implication was that Gingrich would change the order of implementation in his administration, by closing the borders and setting up a worker program, first, before granting citizenship to qualified illegals.
Also, like Lomax, I have found the Latino population to be everything he described, and more. Sure there are shiftless people in this population, as there is in every demographic. But, to smear the entire culture that way is disturbing to me.
His wife didn’t die.
While I agree with your interpretation of Gingrich’s remarks, I disagree with how you paint Romney.
Romney and Gingrich are both conservatives. It’s just Romney wears his conservatism differently than Gingrich. Gingrich is brash, abrasive, and gung-ho on making his points. He openly confronts the media, liberals embracing the fact that he embodies a clearly defined opposing ideology from their’s. Romney, on the other hand, has a softer tone, listens to his opponents causing people to think he is more conciliatory in nature. But, in the end, his stances are more main-line conservative than moderate. Like Reagan, I think he would be able to work a deal out with dems, whereby he would give a little, to get a lot. And, given the gridlock of today’s political atmosphere, that’s more of what is needed at the top.
In fact that story about Gingrich laying a divorce on his wife while she was on her deathbed is totally fiction. Gingrich’s daughter wrote a piece clarifying that it was his wife who earlier had asked for the divorce, not Gingrich. Gingrich’s purpose of visiting the hospital was so that his daughters could visit with their Mom.
And, like you said that wife is still alive. Her tumor was benign. His first wife is still kicking too.
@Tano: Neither of Gingrich’s ex-wives is dead.
Yeah, but the current one has the facial expression of the Living Dead, so maybe that counts…
Here’s a fascinating piece on the subject soon to come into focus: delegate counts, and how the change in GOP rules could send the process to Tampa for a brokered convention in late August. Summary: Willard’s screwed, and no one need ever be inevitable.
Gingrich does have a heart.
It’s just two sizes too small.
@jan: “Romney and Gingrich are both conservatives.”
Romney is NOT a conservative. Don’t be a sucker, jan.
But he plays one on TV.
@Clayton: I hadn’t really realized that Gingrich had prefaced his remark with security first because the clips on TV didn’t include it. Essentially, there was substantial agreement between what Gingrich, Perry and Romney said. The key difference here is point of emphasis. In a situation where people don’t trust politicians, all of whom are saying about the same thing, its the subtle points that count . . .
. . . and how the media chooses the soundbites.
Newt’s position is simple pragmatism. Even if we were to somehow work up the political will to deport 10 or 12 million people (which will never happen), it’s a practical impossibility to actually accomplish the task. We’ve created this situation ourselves with decades of incoherent, ineffective, counter-productive policies and will have to deal with it as it exists, not as we’d like it to be.
People who don’t think the whole issue through–regardless of ideology–can spout simple-sounding soundbites about enforcement or compassion or what-have-you. But that’s the sort of nonsense that made the problem what it is today. If it’s going to be corrected, Newt’s straightforward pragmatism is exactly the sort of starting point required.
Romney knows this, of course (I’m not convinced Perry knows much of anything). But he’s better served by the simple-sounding soundbites about “amnesty.” And his policies would probably just perpetuate the incoherence and counter-productiveness. Kicking the can down the road has served many politicians very well on a lot of issues that are starting to come home to roost now. I can’t ever see myself supporting Newt for the nomination, but at least he’s serving a useful purpose in illuminating and providing clarity on things like this.
Most tellings of the story recount that he discussed terms of the divorce with her as she was in the hospital, he didn’t spring the news of a divorce on her then. And those versions seem to be true.
Gingrich’s daughter works for him. Her version is not to be trusted as objectively true – her purpose on commenting on the story is to advance his candidacy.
This was the first wife.
Pretty much my thoughts, that it would be delicious irony if what sank Newt’s campaign is that he uttered a few words of sensible compassion.
Perhaps he can recover his conservative cred by forcefully taking part in a Two Minute Hate on Mezcans, like maybe gathering with a bunch of Minutemen on our side of the Rio Grande and screaming and jumping and waving their arms, much like the apes in 2001.
Speaking truth to the Tea Stained base is just not a good idea…surprised the smartest guy in a party of idiots didn’t know that.
Thanks for the correction. I don’t have the sequence of marriages in order for Gingrich. From now on I’ll just refer to a wife as “the other wife.”
Immigration has been an issue not served well by either party.
The republicans are not open to any of the gray areas of immigration reform, such as worker programs or citizenship leniency, for those who have been shown to have lived here a long time and become self-supportive. This is to the republican party’s myoptic detriment.
However, the dems have done little to help this population either, except to extend lip service, using this to their advantage as an emotional wedge issue against the opposing party. It’s all superficial support, though, meant to anger the Latino population, speaking like they are the ‘good’ party, while their actions fall way short. This is similar to the tactics used to garner AA support, too. Whereas, in times leading up to civil rights, it was really the republicans who pushed reform in greater percentages than the dems. But, it has been the dems who have reinvented the story and now take credit for this movement, augmenting their rightous claims by tethering this group to the tits of the Great Society.
That’s simply false. Dubya campaigned on a guest worker program. He tried to get some traction for it in both of his terms but never got anywhere. Different versions of actual bills to make it happen were filed by McCain/Kennedy and Kyl/Cornyn. But he got at least as much resistance to it from Democrats (for whom it didn’t go far enough since it wasn’t full amnesty) as from his own base (for whom it was too much like amnesty) so it never happened.
Which is to be expected: It’s a practical approach to an otherwise intractable problem, and one that recognizes the reality that a lot of workers who come here do so seasonally and not to try to stay forever. Decriminalizing those workers and bringing them into the system largely on their own terms makes to much sense for politicians who’d rather play in soundbites. But Tom Tancredo is not the entire GOP.
You are absolutely correct. The liberals pressed the issue of civil rights, and conservatives fought bitterly against it.
Yes, I remember that. However, Bush was roundly criticized, as was McCain and Kyle for their parts in trying to bring a CIR up for a vote. The base of the republican party is who I was referencing as not being able to consider any gray areas in immigration reform.
A deft play of words…..but, as you know that wasn’t the case.
You are, of course, playing the most ridiculous of games here.
First off, it was very much the Northern Democrats who led in the early days of the Civil Rights movement – Hubert Humphrey provoking the Dixiecrat walkout of the ’48 convention, Truman integrating the Armed Forces.
With the notable, and shining exception of Lyndon Johnson, most of the Southern Dems were, however, racists who fought for segregation. The great partisan shift that occured in America in the latter half of the 20th century was completely driven by race and civil rights, as the northern and liberal Dems (with LBJ’s help) demanded that civil rights be a core position of the Democratic party. They effectively drove the southern conservatives out of the party, and into the waiting arms of the Republicans. That is why the white South went from solid Dem to solid Republican in one generation.
The leading lights of conservative Republicanism, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, Bill Buckley, were all opposed to some or all of the major civil rights legislation. The leading Democrats, Kennedy, Johnson, Humphrey were all passionate supporters of civil rights.
Blacks are not stupid people with slave mentalities, or poor creatures unable to make rational assessments of where their interests lay. They vote overwhelmingly for Democrats because the modern Democratic party fought for their equality, and the modern Republican party was built by pandering to the racists who opposed civil rights.
Damn near the entire base, though, and that’s what counts.
Trust Jan to defend a conservative politician who was banging his mistress on the desk in his office while his wife was in the hospital being treated for cancer.
Family values, GOP style.
Gingrich, to his credit, was offering solutions that didn’t involve citizenship. perhaps that difference is a little too subtle for some.
JFK, Bubba…cough, cough…
Glass houses, cough
Why don’t you know by now?
The Gumball Video (5 min) http://bit.ly/bQxRRZ
Amnesty Costs 70 Times More Than Enforcement http://bit.ly/adMGiz
The Democrats Race Lies http://bit.ly/3IBpOi
January 31, 1865
13th Amendment banning slavery passed by U.S. House with unanimous Republican support, intense Democrat opposition
@Liberty60: Here’s your mirror, liar:
Forensic Psychiatrist Explains the Madness of (Modern) Liberalism http://t.co/zoDKXZt
@jan: I believe that hospital story was an outrageous lie but, these are facts:
Newt Gingrich: The Establishment’s Conservative http://bit.ly/swJsLL
We can’t afford not to enforce our laws! Wake Up!
Amnesty Costs 70 Times More Than Enforcement http://bit.ly/adMGiz