So much for Rick Perry sticking to his guns. After taking hit after hit after hit for his comment at last Thursday’s debate that Republicans who don’t support his state’s plan to offer in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants don’t “have a heart,” Perry folded Wednesday and apologized to the base whose feathers he ruffled.
“I was probably a bit over-passionate by using that word and it was inappropriate,” Perry told the right-wing site Newsmax.
“In Texas in 2001 we had 181 members of the legislature - only four voted against this piece of legislation - because it wasn’t about immigration it was about education,” Perry continued.
Here’s the full interview with Newsmax:
Perry’s defense of his state’s version of the DREAM Act at Thursday’s debate drew the ire of Republicans gathered in Orlando, FL last week. They eventually denied him a win in the state’s P5 straw poll, despite a hefty financial outlay on his campaign’s part.
Here’s what Perry said during the debate:
If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart. We need to be educating these children, because they will become a drag on our society.
Nearly every Republican in sight pounced, led by Mitt Romney.
“I think if you’re opposed to illegal immigration, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a heart,” Romney said in a CPAC Florida speech the day after the debate. “It means that you have a heart and a brain.”
His campaign then proceeded to bash Romney as soft on immigration, part of their larger push to turn the ultra-conservative governor of Texas into a flower child liberal. Even establishment Republican dreamboat Chris Christie got in on the act, mocking Perry’s line at the debate.
“I want every child who comes to New Jersey to be educated, but I don’t believe that for those people who came here illegally, we should be subsidizing with taxpayer money, through in-state tuition their education,” Christie said in his much-watched speech at the Reagan Library Tuesday night. “And let me be very clear from my perspective: That is not a heartless position that is a common sense position.”
Initially, Team Perry said their man wasn’t going to back down. Following the lackluster debate performance and rising concerns among Republicans over his presidential candidacy, campaign spokesperson Mark Miner told Politico’s Jonathan Martin that Perry was not going to alter his damn-the-torpedoes campaign style.
“We’re not going to change what we’re doing,” said Perry spokesman Mark Miner. “It’s a long race.”
That rule apparently doesn’t apply to salving the bruised feelings of the anti-immigrant base of the GOP, which is convinced the Texas version of the DREAM act (which passed overwhelmingly in the state legislature back in 2001) leads to more illegal immigrants crossing the border. Perry has said he’s opposed to the federal version of the DREAM act and is a big proponent of the “secure the borders first” line that anti-illegal immigrant voters seem to love so much.
At other parts in the Newsmax interview, Perry is not so quick to back away from positions that his opponents have used against him. According to the site, Perry “Repeated his claim that social security is ‘a Ponzi scheme,’ saying it’s so bad it ‘would make Bernie Madoff blush,’” and he reiterated his opposition to a fence stretching across the entirety Mexican border, a plan he says is impractical. Perry does support putting some fencing in as well as leveraging military assets like drones to guard the border against the encroachment from the south.