Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Reach Too Far

With the ascent of Rick Perry in the GOP race, allies of "comprehensive immigration reform" are lining up behind the tough-talking Texas governor who has not exactly been a vociferous opponent of illegal immigration. Meanwhile, candidates like Romney and (probably) Bachmann, who want to challenge Perry's bona fides with the base, are turning their eyes to Perry's perceive softness on illegal immigration. Like the Texas governor preceding him (George W. Bush), Perry has spoken strongly against a border fence. He has also signed a bill giving in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.

This political dynamic has prompted Jennifer Rubin to observe the following:
Perhaps Perry’s stance is a bridge too far for the base of the Republican Party. It may be that not only Romney, but Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) who can capi­tal­ize on this issue. But should Perry secure the nomination, there will be a significant opportunity for Republicans to reset their stance on illegal immigration. It took Richard Nixon to go to China; maybe it will take Rick Perry to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
I wonder really here how big of a "reset" Perry would be as a Republican candidate. Ronald Reagan passed an amnesty, George W. Bush fought very hard to pass a mass legalization, and John McCain, the nominee in 2008, was a very persistent proponent of mass legalizations throughout most of the last decade. Republican presidential candidates and presidents have often been much more anti-enforcement than the base. The Republican leadership class (to which Perry, the longest-serving Republican governor in the nation, undoubtedly belongs) is filled with individuals who range from indifferent to hostile to immigration enforcement efforts.

Nixon going to China might not be an apposite comparison. Richard Nixon had a reputation as an implacable foe against international communism, so his willingness to normalize diplomatic relations with the PRC was a very big step. Rick Perry has no such reputation in regard to illegal immigration. Indeed, his background (long-term Texas governor with close connections to business interests) would suggest that he would be most likely to support "comprehensive immigration reform." Now, a guy like Tom Tancredo supporting "comprehensive" reform would very much be a Nixon to China moment.

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