Rick Perry’s immigration issues point at what’s wrong with the process, says political scientist

(Photo by Patrick Michels)

To be successful as the governor of Texas, it doesn’t hurt to be a friend to the Latino community. To become the Republican presidential nominee, however, it may hurt a great deal.

So it is that newly minted candidate Rick Perry finds himself under attack from both sides on the immigration debate. So far, though, Perry is doing well in Colorado.

Colorado College professor Bob Loevy said Perry’s problem with immigration offers an object lesson on how not to run an election. He says the current system gives too much power to fringe activists in small states and that the country would get better candidates if it went to a national primary.

Until then, though, Perry is sure to be dogged daily about immigration.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Immigration advocates in Texas were heartened last year when the Republican governor, Rick Perry, flatly stated that Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigrants “would not be the right direction for Texas.”

But in June, Perry convened a special session of the Legislature, hoping to pass a measure outlawing sanctuary cities — places where police are not allowed to ask people they detain about immigration status.

The law, which had already failed during the Legislature’s regular session, was defeated a second time thanks to an opposition coalition that included immigration activists as well as law enforcement officials, evangelical pastors and Republican business owners, among them one of Perry’s biggest fundraisers.

Why did the governor push the ban in a state where no official sanctuary cities even exist? Many in Texas, including Perry supporters, thought they knew the answer: He was considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination.

“I suspect it came from his advisers,” said Houston insurance broker Norman Adams, a Republican and Perry supporter who fought hard against the bill, which he considered anti-business. “You know, ‘You need to look tough on immigration, so we want a sanctuary bill.’ “

And, from The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza:

On immigration, Perry is far to the left of most Republicans (as is Texas as a whole given its large population of Latinos). Vocal anti-immigration advocate Tom Tancredo wrote an op-ed for Politico last weekend attacking Perry on the issue. The headline: “Perry: Not a true conservative.”

Loevy has seen it all before. He says the biggest threat to the Republican Party today is the party itself.

“Each candidate tries to get further to the right to get the support of the party activists whose support they need to get the nomination. But then you end up with a nominee that is so far to the right that they can’t get elected,” said Loevy, who chairs the political science department at CC and has written numerous books on politics and the nominating process, which he views as deeply flawed.

Loevy said that in general, Democrats have the same problem of playing to the far left base during the nominating process before having to move toward the middle for the general election. He notes, though, that in Colorado the Democrats have done a better job lately of nominating candidates with broad appeal.

“Democrats in Colorado have done a pretty good job lately of nominating candidates from the middle of the road instead of from the far left,” Loevy said.

He said Perry’s problems with immigration remind him of the problems Mitt Romney had in 2008. “Romney had a somewhat liberal reputation as the governor of a very liberal state (Massachusetts). Then, as he began running for president he began taking hard right positions that people had a hard time believing.”

Loevy advocates for a national primary, with all states voting on the same day and with the top two vote getters from each party facing a run-off, much the way Denver and Colorado Springs elect mayors.

By doing that, Loevy said small states that hold early primaries would lose their ability to swing the nomination to a candidate that can’t play to the middle. Both parties would become more centrist. “You wouldn’t have all this power concentrated in small states that don’t represent the general public,” he said.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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