NEWT: STILL NOT MEAN ENOUGH?
I was sure that Newt Gingrich doomed his longshot bid to be the GOP presidential nominee when he announced a less-than-flint-hearted stance on immigration. But I see (via Steve Benen) that Gingrich's apparent compassion is, um, nuanced:
"I am not for amnesty for anyone. I am not for a path to citizenship for anybody who got here illegally," Gingrich told the crowd of roughly 750 people, many of whom were forced to stand in the hallway. "But I am for a path to legality for those people whose ties are so deeply into America that it would truly be tragic to try and rip their family apart." [...]
Gingrich wants to model his immigration plan for illegals already in the country on the WWII model of the Selective Service System program, which allowed local communities to decide who would be drafted for war. He noted that the program "really tried to take general policy and give it a human face."
"I think the vast majority [of illegal immigrants] will go home and should go home and then should reapply. I do not think anybody should be eligible for citizenship," the former speaker said to loud applause in Southwest Florida with his wife, Callista, sitting in the front row of the audience. "I am suggesting a certification of legality with no right to vote and no right to become an American citizen unless they go home and apply through the regular procedures back home and get in line behind everybody else who has obeyed the law and stayed back there."
That hits a lot of right-wing pleasure centers. No citizenship, ever, unless you leave the country (even though you may have lived here for decades and your kids may know no other home) and then come crawling back, at the back of the line. A stern, tough-love paternalism toward those who beg for mercy. Even the invocation of World War II draft boards will set off nostalgia for a bygone Golden Age (never mind the fact that even the rapidly aging GOP base mostly came along too late to avoid being called up by those draft boards). This will play well in upcoming stump speeches, and in debates, when Gingrich is challenged on this issue.
But I think the "tragic"/"rip their family apart" aspect of Gingrich's position is still going to come off as too compassionate for the voter base he's trying to reach. He's an old-school, late-twentieth-century Republican, and I think he's still stuck in a 1980s/1990s mindset. Consider his original debate statement on this subject:
"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?" he said.
He wants religious right votes, so he's harking back to religious right language -- but it's obsolete religious right language. Back in the '80s and '90s, the leaders of the religious right tried to proclaim themselves the champions of families -- all families, by implication. I don't hear much of that kind of talk anymore. There are families (those headed by unwed or gay parents, for instance, or those headed by Muslims) that the religious right doesn't want to defend. Now, when religious right leaders talk, they talk about a war on Christians -- or, at times, the Judeo-Christian tradition. Either way, the message has changed. It's no longer "All good people are under attack," it's "We are under attack" -- the we being Christians and (sometimes) Jews.
So Gingrich should drop the "family" talk if he knows what's good for him. In fact, he'd be better off just describing this policy the way it would actually work out if implemented: undocumented immigrants would come before local authorities, and local authorities would let them stay if local business interests needed them -- end of story, no compassion involved. I think base voters might actually prefer that narrative to the compassion fairy tale Newt's telling.