If he wins the Republican nomination for president, you can count on evolution, climate change, The Texas Miracle and a host of other issues becoming interesting to voters when they think about Rick Perry. For now–chasing only Republican votes–his positions on those issues seem pretty safe. Immigration, though, is dogging him everywhere he goes.
In New Hampshire over the weekend, it was immigration people wanted to talk about. In Florida, on Friday, it was immigration that Mitt Romney wanted to talk about, pointing out to a group of Hispanic Republicans just how much tougher he is than Perry.
He may have been 2,000 miles from the border, but Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry’s immigration record in Texas quickly became the focus in New Hampshire Saturday afternoon.
Speaking to hundreds of Granite State voters at a private reception, the Texas governor was asked whether he supported a fence along the Mexican border.
“No, I don’t support a fence on the border,” he said, while referring to the long border in Texas alone. “The fact is, it’s 1,200 miles from Brownsville to El Paso. Two things: How long you think it would take to build that? And then if you build a 30-foot wall from El Paso to Brownsville, the 35-foot ladder business gets real good.”
Instead, Perry said he supported “strategic fencing” and National Guard troops to prevent illegal immigration and violence from Mexican drug cartels.
That Perry is more lax than Romney on border security is perplexing, considering the illegal immigrant population in Texas is ten times that of Massachusetts. In other words, Perry has seen the problem up close and personally — and presumably would want to address it head-on. But, then, his firsthand witness no doubt has informed his views of what solutions are realistic and achievable. Hence his assessment of a fence to secure the border — often dismissed as an impracticable solution – as “ridiculous”? But what of his support for the Texas version of DREAM and his hints at the advisability of binational health insurance?
Obviously, Perry will have to answer questions about his stances on immigration and any other issue on which Romney can zing him — because Romney won’t let up anytime soon. One poll shows Perry ahead of Romney even in Nevada — the one state that is supposed to be an absolute given for Romney.
Of course, after all is said and done, hitting Perry on immigration may be a lot like hitting McCain on patriotism. Some on the right are already calling Romney’s attack a swing and a miss.
But if the immigration issue is Romney’s choice as Rick Perry’s Achilles Heel, then Rick Perry has got him beat already at this early date, and as long as Rick Perry does not flounder or gaffe his way into oblivion, then Rick Perry will remain the GOP front-runner.
The reason for this should be obvious. Rick Perry’s record on immigration, however it may be spun with regard to the Dream Act, the Border Fence, or the Arizona Immigration Law, positively or negatively, has to be seen in the context of Texas politics. For one thing, Governor Perry has been elected to office how many times?
One can hardly call Texas Republicans “moderate.” I mean, really? I just read a quip by a Perry critic quoting the Governor saying he was in favor of seceding from the Union. It was taken out of context, but the point is, on the one hand they position him as a right wing extremist, and on the other as a “moderate” on immigration.
The question that should be asked is this: ”Which would the Obama campaign prefer as an opponent? Romney or Perry?