At Tuesday's Republican debate, Gingrich didn't call for making all illegal immigrants citizens, or even allowing all 11 million or so to stay in America, but for some who've been here for decades to get "red cards," establishing a special new class of non-citizens. For this, he is "brave." Also he "showed real guts," "seize[d] the high ground," showed "decency," offered an "incendiary proposal," waded into "treacherous territory," and "did not retreat." It's a little disconcerting that Newt Gingrich is considered a daring truth-teller for calling for the "humane" treatment of not factory farmed chickens, not former movie-star chimps, not androids, but actual humans.
Gingrich's radical statement was, "I don’t see how the, 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 they are not separated by their families.'" Granted, it's a tonal shift from the October 18 debate, when Mitt Romney and Rick Perry referred to illegal immigrants by the preferred anti-immigraton shorthand "illegals" six times. Their testy exchange over who was more likely to coddle "illegals" ended with this infamous comment from Romney: "I'm running for office, for Pete's sake, I can't have illegals." (It's interesting to watch these debates in your office after hours as a Latino cleaning crew swoops in.)
There's a lot of debate analysis that says Gingrich's position could hurt him in the primary -- Republican voters in Iowa were bothered by Rick Perry's statement that if you don't think we should educate illegal immigrant children, you "have no heart" -- but help him in the general election. The Daily Beast's Michelle Goldberg says, "It could end up being Newt Gingrich’s decency on undocumented immigrants, rather than his indecency in a host of other areas, that does him in." Her colleague Howard Kurtz warned, "In crass political terms, Romney may have gained more by embracing the anti-immigration stance. But Gingrich showed himself to willing to fight for a principle, and he did it without attacking anyone on the stage." Hot Air's Ed Morrissey says Gingrich's comments "won’t win him kudos from conservatives, but appears more like Gingrich lining up his general-election pitch." New York's J onathan Chait says, "As poor a nominee as Gingrich would be, he is better positioned than Romney to contain the party’s damage among Latinos."
But National Review's Rich Lowry adds a little perspective to Gingrich's magnanimous position:
He’s right about the human costs of mass deportation but he’s going to spend a lot of time talking about immigration over the next 48 hours. We’ll get a test of whether it was Perry’s maladroit handling of the issue that cost of him or simply the fact that he departed from the restrictionist line; I suspect Gingrich is going to have a very hard time defending the idea of creating a permanent class of second-class citizens, which is what the 'red card' proposal sounds like.