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Bush Speechwriter Michael Gerson Challenges Romney and Perry on Their Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric

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michael gersonAnother prominent Republican is speaking out against the vicious anti-immigrant rhetoric occurring in the GOP presidential contest. In his latest column at the Washington Post, Michael Gerson, who served as chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush, challenges the tactics of Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, both of whom have been supportive of immigration reform in the past:

What is it about the immigration issue that brings out the worst in politicians?

Neither Mitt Romney nor Rick Perry has a history of being an immigration hard-liner.Romney supported George W. Bush’s attempt at comprehensive immigration reform in 2005, which included a (difficult) path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. When I attended a dinner with Perry during his 2010 campaign for reelection as Texas governor, he was particularly passionate about the need for Republican outreach to Hispanics.

Yet Romney has attacked Perry for allowing educational benefits in Texas for the children of undocumented immigrants — calling this policy “a magnet to draw illegals into the state.” Perry has responded that Romney’s Massachusetts health-care reform permitted the medical treatment of undocumented immigrants, which a Perry campaign spokesman calls an “illegal immigration magnet.” In this exchange, both campaigns have managed — extending the metaphor — to be repellent.

Repellent, indeed.

Gerson also understands the political implications of the ugliness, even if Romney, Perry and their fellow candidates don’t:

Republicans have a direct interest in avoiding ugliness. Hispanic political influence is not only increasing but concentrated in competitive states — a key to electoral success in states such as Nevada, Colorado and Arizona. The recent past offers encouragement to the GOP. In the 2004 election, Bush won more than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote. And President Obama has left a political opening. Hispanic unemployment exceeds 11 percent, and the administration has consistently discovered legislative priorities higher than immigration reform. On issues of Hispanic concern, Obama’s lip service has been deafening.

To gain a respectable level of Hispanic support, Republicans don’t need to play a sophisticated game of ethnic politics. They need to offer the realistic hope of job creation and economic mobility. And one more thing. They need to stop targeting the sick and aspiring.

They sure need to stop the that targeting, but it doesn’t look like they will anytime soon.