Our political Quote of the Day comes from the always-solid in his analysis and always-solid in his sourcing Marc Ambinder, who notes that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has given a special gift to President Barack Obama by raising the immigration issue which promises to drive former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney further to the right:
Quite simply, it could move Romney to the right, to a place where college-educated white voters question whether he is compassionate enough. Immigration is one of those suburban signal issues. George W. Bush was on the right side of it, as was John McCain, as was Bob Dole — indeed, as were George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. It goes without saying that the DNC is also targeting Hispanics themselves.
Brad Woodhouse, the DNC’s communications chief, says in an e-mail that “Mitt Romney’s extreme anti-immigrant views were on clear display. Romney once again went to the right of every other Republican presidential candidate, refusing to agree with others on the stage that tearing apart families is wrong or that we shouldn’t implement an extreme and inhumane immigration policy.”
OK. Now, whether you agree with Gingrich or Romney, recognize that the DNC and the Obama campaign now has a new incentive to see Newt Gingrich become the true face of the GOP anti-establishment opposition to Romney, as ironic as that last phrase is. If Gingrich and Romney publicly argue over immigration, the DNC and Obama 2012 will do everything they can to reproduce this debate before college-educated white voters in Virginia, North Carolina, the Rust Belt and elsewhere. It’s a perfect time, because the national electorate is starting to wake up and pay attention to the race. Now is the time when Mitt Romney, the guy who Chicago expects will be the nominee, is at his most tender, most doughy, and most mold-able.
On Tuesday, National Journal’s Ron Brownstein helped Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin introduce their latest demographic study of the electorate, which projects that the share of non-whites voting in battleground states in 2012 will jump two percentage points, a boost for President Obama, or a cushion of sorts for any shedding of white voters. (Working class whites will correspondingly drop three percent.)
The demographic battleground, as Brownstein, Teixeira and Halpin see it, will be among college-educated whites, particularly women, who helped put Obama over the top in the Midwest, West, and in states like Florida and Virginia even though, across all the battlegrounds, that cohort gave its vote to John McCain by four points. Mitt Romney does better among these voters than any GOP candidate. And those college-educated white voters could question Romney’s compassion if he takes too hard-line a stance on immigration.
I covered the Ronald Reagan immigration reform/amnesty program extensively as part of my beat when I was a reporter on the San Diego Union. In those days many conservative Republicans would never seriously raise the idea of mass deportations. Perhaps Reagan’s solution — an amnesty that did not work because political and business interests didn’t really want the government to enforce the hiring of illegal aliens/undocumented workers (pick the term that fits your political stand) and little was done on that component — was not perfect. But there was this “given” of compassion — and part of the reason why there were “Reagan Democrats” was this attempt to find solutions that had a conservative orientation but attempted to garner a certain amount of national consensus.
Some reports now indicate that Gingrich knows full well that polling shows that even a big chunk of GOPers don’t want mass deportations of the kind suggested by those who feel no matter how long someone or a family is here, if they are here illegally they need to get the national boot.
So now the GOP has a choice:
1)Shift close to Gingrich’s stand.
2)Follow the hard line stand that Romney is now trying to pander to (realizing that like with many other positions this has not been his position for a lot of his political life).
A lot will depend on how this plays out among the Republican Party’s true strategists in coming weeks: how will talk show hosts react to Gingrich’s stand? If they give him a pass (likely) it could become the party’s new stand. But if Romney gains from it politically, Gingrich’s fortunes will start to fall.
And as the GOP works out this choice, Obama & Co. will be watching as it works tirelessly to register Latino voters.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.