Imagine you are political advisor to Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.
For months, your campaign has floundered. Your guy was once one of the most powerful men in Washington, the speaker of the House and a man famous for his intellectual power.
But then he fell from power and more or less vanished from the Washington scene. So much so that when Gingrich announced he was running for president, one was tempted to say, “1996 called, they want Newt Gingrich back.”
But the only thing weaker than Gingrich seemed to be, well, every other GOP candidate.
Herman Cain has his woman problems and Michele Bachmann’s kook factor is just a bit too high and, finally, Mitt Romney has, well, a Mitt Romney problem. In that, he can’t convince anyone that he is anybody other than Mitt Romney and, thus, simply a lackluster political candidate.
And lo and behold, in recent weeks, Gingrich has surged. And so, you can imagine how his political advisors must have felt when Gingrich, finally in the lead, went ahead and made some crazy comments
about immigration last week.
"If you've been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully, and kick you out."
Huh? What was Gingrich, Mr. Conservative, actually saying? Was he suggesting that not all immigrants are filthy freeloaders?
He continued, "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. And I'm prepared to take the heat for saying, ‘Let's be humane.’"
That’s not a word that has been associated with Republican immigration policy since, well, since Rick Perry suggested it was heartless for candidates to bash immigrants.
Then again, we see how well Rick Perry’s candidacy is going these days. And that’s why you must feel bad for Gingrich’s advisors. But it’s also why Gingrich deserves credit for reframing the Republican debate over this contentious issue.
Needless to say, Gingrich’s opponents pounced on him, bashing his ideas as “amnesty” for illegal immigrants.
They did this, in large part, because they believe that Republican primary voters in general – and Tea
Party backers in particular – are hungry for a hard-liner when it comes to immigration.
And they may be right. After all, Perry’s thinking-outside-the-box did not exactly help him.
Furthermore, as John Heilemann noted in this week’s New York magazine, there is disturbing evidence that elements in the Republican Party have anti-immigrant tendencies on their GOP wish list.
“In a landmark book-length study being published this month, the Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, Harvard political scientist Theda Skocpol… -- on the basis of copious, careful, and not unsympathetic field reporting” found that an “animus against ‘freeloaders’…unifies the tea-partiers across the nation, with illegal immigrants preeminent in that category.”
That a group of people accused of working so hard that they steal American jobs can also be seen as
freeloaders is another question for another time.
As for Gingrich, perhaps he is simply hoping to make it through the Republican primaries and win some Hispanic votes in the November 2012.
If so, maybe he has looked at past immigration voting patterns. The Irish, for example, voted
Democratic for over 100 years not only because local ward bosses, though often corrupt, were also responsive to their needs.
It did not hurt that Republicans harbored some strong anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant candidates. Then again, so did certain elements of the Democratic party in the south and Mid-West.
And even then the Republicans could not sway significant numbers of white ethnic Catholics until the 1970s and 1980s.
There’s much talk among conservatives about the 11 million illegal immigrants in America. They focus on the term “illegal” in that sentence.
Perhaps Gingrich has realized that someone should focus on “11 million” and try and win some of those or their children’s’ votes.