To borrow the old astronaut lingo, did Newt Gingrich screw the pooch last night?There he was at the latest Republican debate, holding forth on foreign policy over a span of 90 minutes, virtually unchallenged by his rivals, clearly buoyed by his turn at the top of the polls … but then came the issue of immigration.Whereupon Newt went to bat for millions of illegal immigrants:”If you’ve come here recently, you have no ties to this country, you ought to go home, period. (But) if you’ve been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you’ve been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don’t think we’re going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out.”And when Michele Bachmann denounced his stance as “amnesty,” Newt doubled down and told her: “If you go back to your district, and you find people who have been here 25 years and have two generations of family and have been paying taxes and are in a local church, as somebody who believes strongly in family, you’ll have a hard time explaining why that particular subset is being broken up and forced to leave, given the fact that they’ve been law-abiding citizens for 25 years.”And when Mitt Romney charged that Newt was encouraging lawlessness, Newt tripled down. Here’s the money quote:”I do not believe that the people of the United States are going to take people who have been here a quarter century, who have children and grandchildren, who are members of the community, who may have done something 25 years ago, separate them from their families and expel them….The party that says it’s the party of the family is not going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families who have been here a quarter century. 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.'”No, no, no. This is no way to woo grassroots conservatives and cement one’s first-place poll status. Granted, conservatives already have a passel of reasons for rejecting Newt, if they so choose – he sold himself off to Freddie Mac, he agreed with Nancy Pelosi that global warming is real, he’s had three wives, and on and on – but surely the worst thing you can do, during primary season, is talk compassionately about illegal immigrants. Because, among conservatives, a phrase like “Let’s be humane” is as toxic as “Let’s tax the rich.”Rick Perry hit the skids two months ago in part because he touted the Texas policy of offering college aid to the children of illegals; he got booed when he urged conservatives to “have a heart.” The big question now is whether Newt will pay a similar price. Newt wasn’t booed for his apostasy last night, but that was probably because the D.C. debate audience was dominated by conservative think-tank scholars, many of whom have worked with Newt for years. They consider him a big brain – heck, back in the ’90s, they bonded with Newt on the belief that Americans should be required to buy health coverage – which means that even if they saw Newt’s “humane” stance as a worrisome symptom of bleeding-heart liberalism, they were clearly willing to overlook it.And perhaps grassroots conservatives are prepared to do the same; perhaps they’ll convince themselves that Newt’s presumably strong debating skills vis a vis Obama should take precedence over his candyass compassion for illegals. Perhaps they’ll view him as a courageous guy who, in his own words, is willing to “take the heat” on an issue that contradicts the Party Line.Yeah, well. We shall see about that. Already, the shorthand in some conservative circles this morning is that Newt favors amnesty. One need only check out the National Review website (Headline: “Newt Will Answer for Amnesty”) to discover, in the comments section, that heads are exploding all over the anonymitysphere.Glenn X grouses: “I thought the GOP was supposed to be the law & order party, the party that cracks down on lawbreakers…I’m just glad that Gingrich revealed this (humane stance) to us now, before the primaries got underway. Now I know I can go back to gritting my teeth and supporting Romney – who, despite his other flaws, is at least not a Dubya-style squish on this issue.”RevoEmag says: “Newt favors amnesty. ‘I won’t give them amnesty or citizenship, but anybody who comes here illegally will be allowed to stay here legally.’ That’s amnesty.””Amazing,” huffs Ardis, “Serial adulterer Gingrich using the sanctity of the family to rationalize the ‘inhumanity’ of not rewarding lawbreakers who disrespect U.S. sovereignty with a free pass & squatters rights.”Amnesty-Loving Newt says, “I hope the GOP wakes up before it’s too late. Gingrich = 4 more years of Obama. It’s this simple.”And someone called notoamnesty declares, “Newt completely lost me tonight…Newt nuancing today is the end of his campaign – the same thing that happened to Perry in the polls will happen to Newt.”But what would happen if Newt went down for sounding “humane?” The Iowa caucuses are looming large, time is short, and the ranks of the anti-Romney saviors have nearly been depleted. So maybe Newt survives by default. If he can manage to weather last night’s blasphemy, he may indeed be the last man standing between Romney and the nomination.——-
And a Happy Thanksgiving to all. Let’s be thankful for our freedom to engage in the…shall we say…vigorous exchange of ideas.
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