Updated at 1:10 PM
As expected, Newt Gingrich is taking a lot of hits from his opponents and the conservative right following his decision to risk it all by professing compassion for a subset of illegal immigrants.
Social conservatives are freaking out, and Gingrich’s decision to insert the word “humane” into an answer about illegal immigration at the last presidential debate seems to be putting some Iowa voters on edge weeks before the caucus vote. But, importantly, while Gingrich’s opponents attack him, they’re declining to say what they’d do differently when it comes to families who’ve been living, working (and paying taxes) in America for decades without legal immigration status.
So the Gingrich-as-next-Rick Perry storyline is now outlined, and another conservative icon is being recast by his opponents as a latte-sipping Prius owner thanks to some (slight) nuance over the extremely complex problem of illegal immigration.
Take this from Mitt Romney at an Iowa campaign stop Wednesday.
“I just think we make a mistake as a Republican Party to try to describe which people who’ve come here illegally should be given amnesty to be able to jump ahead of the line of the people who have been waiting in line,” Romney said. He reiterated his longstanding contention that “those who’ve come here illegally should not be given a special deal or a special accelerated right to become a permanent resident or citizen.”
Gingrich expressly said at the debate Tuesday that long-term illegal immigrants shouldn’t be given citizenship, but rather some kind of process to create legal status and avoid splitting up families. But that kind of amnesty verboten in conservative circles, gives Romney an opening to attack Newt from the right, and is enough for Michele Bachmann to call Gingrich a liberal.
Gingrich “probably has the most liberal position on illegal immigration of any of the candidates in the race,” she told PBS Wednesday. (Interestingly, Bachmann declined to say exactly what she’d do differently than Gingrich when it comes to long-term residents who’ve put down roots. “I think that we will deal with this issue as it comes forward,” she said.)
So this is playing out for Gingrich basically as you’d expect. Will it put an end to his surge in the polls? That’s yet to be seen, but Gingrich is certainly facing the same kind of grilling that put Perry away earlier this year.