During last night’s Republican presidential debate, Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) came under fire from other candidates about his support for in-state tuition for undocumented young people in Texas, and perhaps because of this many commentators continue to characterize Perry as a moderate on the issue.
Just because Mitt Romney and the rest of the Republican field sound like Reps. Lamar Smith and Steve King on immigration doesn’t mean Rick Perry is a moderate. If he was a true moderate on immigration, he would:
Support comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship, as 23 Republican Senators did in 2006
Support the DREAM Act for young people who want to attend college or serve in the military, a bill originally authored by Senator Orrin Hatch
Oppose Arizona’s Draconian anti-immigrant law, as Jeb Bush and Karl Rove did
Instead, on the core issues he walks in lock step with his competitors. He opposes any talk of comprehensive immigration reform until “the border is secured first” – which in current-day Republican speak means “comprehensive immigration reform never.” He opposes the DREAM Act, even though the rationale for this modest measure is the same he uses in his defense of in-state tuition. And after initially questioning the Arizona law, Perry pushed for a similar hardline immigration enforcement law in his state when gearing up for his presidential run, and highlighted his support for Arizona-like state-based crackdowns during last night’s debate.
“Ronald Reagan was a moderate on this issue. George W. Bush was a moderate on this issue. John McCain used to be a moderate on this issue. Rick Perry is no moderate on this issue,” according to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice.
Most of the coverage of immigration during last night’s debate focused on Perry’s comment defending the Texas DREAM Act, when he said:
“If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason that they have been brought there by no fault of their own I don’t think you have a heart.”
Many pundits are wondering, why would he speak so forcefully about an issue that does not seem to play well among GOP base voters if he wasn’t really a moderate?
According to Sharry:
“Some have suggested that Perry is trying to position himself for the general election because it is widely known that the GOP nominee will have to win 40% of the Latino vote to be competitive, especially in the swing states of Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Florida. Others suggest it’s an issue of principle for the Texas Governor. But our take is that Perry has decided to stand his ground on ‘controversial’ issues in order to paint himself as the straight shooter who does not flip-flop, in contrast to his main competitor Mitt Romney. If Perry was truly acting on principle, he would support allowing immigrant youth educated in Texas to put those educations to use through the federal DREAM Act.
Perry is certainly on to something when he accuses Romney of being an incorrigible shape-shifter. On immigration, Romney was for comprehensive immigration reform before he was against it. Then in 2008 he reinvented himself as a hardliner only to see it cost him crucial Hispanic support in the pivotal Florida primary. And remarkably, once again he is reaching for the hard-right playbook in an attempt to blunt Perry’s support among conservative primary voters. However, racing to the right on immigration, especially when the general election goes right through the key swing states with large Hispanic electorates, directly contradicts the Romney campaign’s attempt to portray their candidate as the Republican best equipped and most electable in a general election race against President Obama. The bottom line is that the GOP nomination seems to be coming down to a contest between a hard-liner with a hint of a heart and a flip-flopper without much of a soul.
For more information, see America’s Voice report on 2012 Republican Field and Immigration: Why Do Elephants Put their Heads in the Sand?