I’ve had some critical things to say about Newt Gingrich in the past, but I thought his answer on immigration at last night’s GOP debate was excellent. He put forth a series of steps that would curtail illegal immigration, even as he said this: “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 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.”
In response, Romney adviser and spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom leaped in for the kill: Newt Gingrich supported the 1986 amnesty act, and even though he conceded that was a mistake, he said he was willing to repeat that mistake, by extending amnesty to immigrants who are illegally in the country today. Mitt Romney is against amnesty, and Newt Gingrich made it very clear he was for amnesty.
In fact, Governor Romney, a reasonable man, refused to say he would deport someone who has been in this country for a quarter-century, has raised a family here, and who has not gone afoul of the law. For his campaign to jump on Gingrich about “amnesty” is silly. Gingrich made an entirely reasonable distinction between categories of illegal immigrants. No matter; the Romney campaign is now using the Scarlet A (as in amnesty) against the former speaker.
I’ve been through enough campaigns to know that staff is paid to seize on minor matters and elevate them to heresies over first principles. That goes with the territory. But if the Republican Party has adopted a position in which Gingrich’s thoughtful and nuanced stand on immigration is viewed as disqualifying, then it will pay a price, morally and politically.