Today’s Courier Herald Column:
If conventional wisdom holds, the race for the Republican presidential nomination was largely frozen last week, as voters moved from watching the evolving horse race to preparing for a five week holiday season. Coincidentally, voters in Iowa will gather in five weeks on January 3rd to hold the nation’s first caucuses on the subject. Thus, the perceived front runners who locked in their positions last week are likely to remain the front runners until those first votes are counted about the time the Sugar Bowl kicks off.
The importance of winning last week’s news cycle made the choice and timing of Newt Gingrich’s remarks on immigration in Tuesday night’s CNN debate on foreign policy a bit curious and risky. Gingrich stated in bluntly certain terms that it is not possible or even desirable to deport every immigrant currently living in the United States illegally. In doing so, some believe he’s touched a third rail of Republican primary politics.
Gingrich’s remarks made clear that he does not favor a path to citizenship, but does offer a path to legalization for those who have lived her for decades, are involved in the community, have raised children and even grandchildren here, and are paying taxes. “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” he stated.
This, of course, created the usual cries of “Amnesty!” from some hard line immigration opponents. D.A. King, leader of the Georgia based Dustin Inman society and persistent critic of U.S. immigration enforcement policy, penned an Op Ed for Friday’s Marietta Daily Journal dismissing Gingrich as a possibility for his vote, stating Newt had “degraded and insulted the entire concept of legal immigration and U.S. citizenship by referring to not-yet-captured illegal aliens as ‘law-abiding citizens’.”
Yet others are willing to hear Gingrich out on the issue. The Associated Press reports that over 1,000 showed up at a Naples Florida hotel to hear Gingrich address the issue on Friday, with others turned away for lack of space. During his remarks, he reiterated his position and clarified some significant points that hit home with voters on both sides of the issue.
Gingrich claims that as President, he would have the border sealed by January 1st of 2014, less than one year after he would be inaugurated. He further supports a measure to make English the official language of the United States, claiming that “You can’t sustain a civilization if you can’t talk to each other.”
But he did not withdraw from his positions stated earlier in Tuesday’s debate, saying “I have not suggested amnesty for 11 million people. I am for a path to legality for those people whose ties are so deeply into America that it would truly be tragic to rip their family apart.”
In framing the debate in the manner that he has, Gingrich may have threaded a needle on a tough issue and turned his position to his advantage. By ruling out a path to citizenship, insisting on a secure border first, and demanding English as an official language, Newt has thrown some red meat to hard liners on the immigration subject.
Yet by invoking this as a family values issue, and specifically mentioned the unseemliness of uprooting immigrants from their churches that they have been part of for decades, Gingrich was able to make a thinly veiled appeal to values voters who currently feel ignored by many of the front runners and may be skeptical of his past. Further, by drawing the ire of the harshest critics such as King, Gingrich may draw some sympathy from centrist and independent minded voters who currently view Newt as “extreme”.
By the end of the long Holiday weekend, Gingrich was still dominating political headlines but for yet another reason. New Hampshire’s conservative Union Leader newspaper passed over regional favorite Mitt Romney and handed Newt their endorsement. With Gingrich surging in both New Hampshire and Iowa polls, the endorsement seems to seal Gingrich’s position as the likely “not-Mitt” candidate.
Romney continues to have a large cash advantage, as well as a grass roots network that has been under construction for years. Resources that have been amassed over the years he has been a candidate will be deployed in the early states while most of the rest of us go about our holiday activities. Momentum favors Newt, while infrastructure favors Mitt. The remaining candidates are now largely window dressing on what appears to have quietly become a two man race.