Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich currently occupies the position previously held by Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain before him – the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential sweepstakes.
Gingrich’s rise has surprised many observers, including this writer, due to the perception that Gingrich, despite his originality and dynamism, carried two heavy pieces of baggage in terms of winning conservative affection.
Firstly, that he has been married 3 times, including a case of marital infidelity, and second, that he served as a lobbyist. On the other hand, his steady performances in the Republican debates have rendered Gingrich a more difficult target for Republican pundits who would like to anoint Mitt Romney as the presidential candidate and be done with it.
In the presidential debate that took place last week in Washington, Gingrich appeared to provide Romney with an opening when he ruled out a blanket deportation of illegal immigrants and particularly those who had established ties to the community. Gingrich’s competitors believed that this misstep would bring the house down on Gingrich as it had previously bloodied Rick Perry, who permitted the children of illegal immigrants access to the Texas University system.
Gingrich, while accusing Romney of flip-flopping on the immigration issue, has been making an effort to present a smaller opening to his opponents, while remaining the beneficiary of the compassionate conservative role on immigration that he acquired in the debate.
For one, Gingrich presents himself as a strong advocate of sealing the border to illegal immigrants. Under him, the US government would prove as efficient as UPS and FedEx in keeping track of illegal immigrants. There was also no reason, he claimed, that a country which managed a successful massive war effort could not construct an effective border fence.
Secondly, Gingrich has defended the right of states such as South Carolina, Alabama and Arizona that have passed laws allowing local police to check the immigration status of suspects detained for other reasons and to criminalize the transport and harboring of undocumented immigrants. He criticized the Obama administration for taking these states to court.
Finally, Gingrich points out that there is a distinction between “a path to legality” and citizenship. He was offering resident rights to illegal immigrants who are law-abiding, taxpaying and have established deep roots in the community. They represent a small percentage of the illegal immigrant problem.
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