Political Animal


October 09, 2011 8:45 AM Perry’s immigration problem

By Steve Benen

It’s safe to say Rick Perry has given up his perch as the Republican presidential frontrunner. In fact, the apparent collapse happened rather suddenly, with a debate in Florida marking the pivot point. Almost immediately, the question in GOP circles went from, “Is Perry too conservative to win in a general election?” to, “Does anyone have Chris Christie’s phone number?”

But some of the analysis of Perry’s sudden decline has been off the mark over the last two weeks. I’ve seen more than a few pundits suggest that one debate performance ruined Perry because he seemed like such a lightweight — ignorant, inarticulate, and unlikable.

Those assessments are fair, but it’s not what’s dragged Perry down. Immigration is.

Rick Perry has an immigration problem. In all three of his appearances in Iowa on Saturday, voters pressed the Texas governor and GOP presidential candidate on the issue, specifically his decision to grant in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants.

Perry has acknowledged that he made a mistake when he referred to people who opposed his policy as heartless during a debate last month. But he has stood fast on his decision to grant the tuition break in Texas.

Responding to voters’ questions here, Perry argued that in Texas, helping the children of illegal immigrants was a way to create “taxpayers, not tax-wasters.” He assured one questioner that there were “no free rides” in Texas for the children of illegal immigrants, although the dispute is over whether to grant reduced in-state tuition, not free college, for illegal immigrants.

And Perry emphasized that in Texas he opposed legislation that would have allowed illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses and supported a provision that requires Texans to show some form of identification to vote.

But it’s not working. For one thing, the “have a heart” comment during the debate lingers, and offended the right in a rather fundamental way (they hate it when the left makes the accusation, but they really hate it when it comes from one of their own). For another, Perry backed off the “heartless” rhetoric, but he hasn’t flip-flopped on the policy itself.

And as a result, as Politico noted, “Perry’s immigration problem isn’t going away. It’s getting bigger.”

At a certain level, it may seem ridiculous that a right-wing Texas governor and one-time frontrunner would be brought down by such a mundane issue — in-state tuition rates for kids who live in the state. But far-right activists are in an unforgiving mood; their disgust for undocumented immigrants has only intensified in recent years; and Perry hurt their feelings with the whole “heartless” comment.

Mitt Romney seems far more willing to simply tell the Republican base whatever they want to hear, and pretending his record simply doesn’t exist. It may very well mean the difference between winning the nomination and losing it.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • SteveT on October 09, 2011 8:55 AM:

    It's fun to eulogize
    The people you despise,
    As long as you don't let 'em in your school.


  • FRP on October 09, 2011 9:08 AM:

    The exposure of these candidates has done little to assure reasonable people , that for the balance of the public that subscribe to these "favorites" , they live in either a reasonable time or place .
    The question that was so nimbly put with Martin Niemöller's name or the nightmare of Kristallnacht in the previous post applies far more incisively here . This being shown by those levels of right wing violence that can only be ignored through applause . These "favorites" have by every measure subscribed to an absurd level of distortion in every one dimensional knee jerk reflex they read will assist them programmed into their so called "talking points" . The robotic dismissal of nuance and people are reminiscent of a psychological syndrome or personality disorder commonly known as a sociopath .
    Good luck for those who tie their fates to those who display contempt for facts among other distracting details . Please remember when your balancing the actions of a president who weighs the relevance of his actions within the details of a situation , and one who weighs the impact of a dismissal of those facts for the clean slate of justification for a dramatic effect , just what you have lost and what little you have gained .

  • hells littlest angel on October 09, 2011 9:13 AM:

    Well, there's a lesson for Republicans in all this: Don't be a decent human being.

  • berttheclock on October 09, 2011 9:32 AM:

    I do not believe Mr Benen has ever understood the passion created in right wing general populace about immigration. Should Perry run in a RepuG Primary in Oregon, he would lose, due to his comments regarding immigration. The right wing in Oregon has ranted and raved against the State helping any child of an undocumented worker; have done the same with any undocumented worker being allowed to drive a vehicle within the state, if only on Ag business work. The right wing wants all undocumented persons deported even though said person has lived and worked honorably in the State for years. There have been solid family mothers and fathers deported after living and working in Oregon for many years and the Right Wing cheered their departure. For many in the Right Wing, immigration has become as much of a hot button issue as abortion.

  • c u n d gulag on October 09, 2011 9:43 AM:

    We look more and more like the end of Weimar Germany right before (Godwin forgive me), right before Hitler and his band of lunatics took over the stage.
    They too, ran on economic issues and used xenophobia and racism.
    -Substitute "Liberals" for Trade Unionists, Communists, and Socialists.
    -Subtitute "illegal immigrants' for Jews.
    -Trying to influence the voting process, and limiting who can vote.

    We live in "interesting" times.

  • Schtick on October 09, 2011 9:57 AM:

    ...."their disgust for undocumented immigrants has only intensified in recent years;"...
    Thanks to the tealiban rhetoric in past years. First they say illegals are taking away American jobs then they say the illegals are "only" taking the jobs Americans won't do.
    They are right in both instances. They are taking American jobs. They are taking the jobs Americans won't do because Americans won't work for less than minimum wage.

    crapcha....Part dcsoca....almost have something there

  • bdop4 on October 09, 2011 9:58 AM:

    Godwin's Law is what got us to this point. When you're more concerned about polite conversation than pointing out what's in front of you, fascists have free rein to keep pushing the envelope of what's "acceptable" in our society.

    What's happening in the Republican primary election is a referendum on its members, where any form of compassion is a non-starter. We can only hope that moderates and independents are taking notes.

  • max on October 09, 2011 10:04 AM:

    Perry lost the Tea Party with his immigration lite comments. The heart and soul of the Tea Party - their primary lie - is that government exists only to create huge social programs designed to give away money to worthless people who won't work, e.g., welfare queens, illegal immigrants, etc. Their Big Lie, packaged and financed by rich crackpots like the Koch Brothers, made them the quintessential useful idiots of the massive corporations and corporate welfare industry that buys and runs the U.S. government. Without the votes of the wingnuts who believe Tea Paty drivel, Perry is toast.

  • Bernard HP Gilroy on October 09, 2011 10:13 AM:

    :: they hate it when the left makes the accusation [of being heartless], but they really hate it when it comes from one of their own
    And they hate it even more when the accusation is so eminently true, and people still have the audacity to call them out on it.
  • DAY on October 09, 2011 10:23 AM:

    I liked gulag's comments!

    Slightly off topic- but not really, since everything seems linked to politics now- is this new dichotomy featuring the 99%ers and a group calling itself the 53%ers. The latter have the same gripes as the former, but, by God, we go to work and PAY TAXES!

    -probably shower and attend church more often, too. . . (Beer not Marywanna- we're Patriotic 'Murricans!)

  • SteveT on October 09, 2011 10:27 AM:

    Schtick said:
    First they say illegals are taking away American jobs then they say the illegals are "only" taking the jobs Americans won't do.

    This is only the latest refrain on an old, old song. We heard variations on the same theme:

    - in the 1840s when the Irish immigrants came to the U.S.
    - in the 1870s when freed slaves migrated to northern cities.
    - in the 1890s when the Italian immigrants came to the U.S.
    - in the 1900s when the German immigrants came to the U.S.
    - in the 1910s when eastern European immigrants came to the U.S.
    - in the 1970s when southeast Asian immigrants came to the U.S.

    And yet every wave of immigrants made the United States stronger than it was before. The United States has grown to be the greatest country in the world BECAUSE of our historic policy of accepting newcomers from other countries. Each wave of immigrants renews our country's vigor because it brings us people who are brave enough and motivated enough to leave behind everything they know to reach for something better.

  • sick -n-effin-tired on October 09, 2011 10:53 AM:

    For one thing, the “have a heart” comment during the debate lingers, and offended the right in a rather fundamental way
    As said by many above ...
    Last time I checked Heartless was the modus operandi
    of the Republican Party.
    Heartless , Its not just a word , it's a policy.

  • Texas Aggie on October 09, 2011 12:19 PM:

    You have to understand that the illegal immigrants in TX are paying the same taxes as everyone else in TX. That's the way our system is set up, no income tax, remember? Everything is a consumption tax of some kind, mostly sales tax, but also on electricity, gas, gasoline, water, and telephone, plus many others. Local taxes like property tax are out of sight along with numerous fees. "Illegals" pay these either directly or indirectly to their landlords just the same as everyone else.

    The right understands this very well, but the fact that even though the "illegals" are paying the same taxes, the right wingers don't want to give them the services that they paid for. This is the very definition of "heartless," and it is standard right wing dogma. It's why the corporations and the rich can get away with illegal behavior that would send a normal person to jail. The only time a rich guy gets punished is when his victims are other rich people.

  • zandru on October 09, 2011 12:28 PM:


    In my conversations with reactionaries, I've learned that they think they are all really sweet people. Dear, generous, kind, giving. They believe deeply in their own goodness - in contrast with the greedy, selfish, self-interested, promiscuous, dirty, "scruffy" left, who care only about their own personal gain.

    I'm serious here - it's a bizarre mirror world, where up is down and everything is inside out. I don't "shrink", so I'll try only to describe, not explain. It's as if everything they hate the most is superimposed on their opponents (er, "enemies"), while they themselves must certainly be, in contrast, perfect and blameless.

    In fact, outside of politics, the wingnuts may be pretty nice people. While they will cheer at letting a hypothetical young man die on the street for lack of medical care or even food, put them in that situation and they'd almost certainly spring into action to help.

    They don't think it through. They've been easily misled by nice-sounding fuzzy "concept" words: freedom, patriotism, responsibility. And now, they've got their own carefully crafted, manufactured "reality" and "history" that constitutes all they know about the world. At the same time, more and more of them are pulling their children out of school so they can learn this world view and all the "facts" that the Bible allows at home.

    Dealing with this will take many generations. As part of the reality-based community, we really need to get going on fixing this. Failure is not an option.

  • liam fooe on October 09, 2011 5:15 PM:

    Politicians in Texas, New Mexico and California (states where undocumented alien students pay in-state tuition) know exactly what they are doing, given demographic shifts evident in the 2010 census. GW Bush did not earlier propose a "pathway to citizenship" derided by the right because Jeb Bush is married to a Latino. Gov. Perry is no different in his pragmatic views.

    A child should not be penalized for the actions of their parents. A qualified student in Texas should receive in-state tuition because he or she is a resident. Some argue that illegal aliens should not be given financial advantage not accorded out of state students with legal status but, really ... show me one out of state student who expects in-state tuition in Texas.

    Gov. Perry might just as well have said "heartless and stupid."

  • Dave Francis on October 22, 2011 4:40 PM:


    These immigration issues calls for a Congressional corrections, after the '2006 Secure Fence act' is resurrected and built as planned. This was a double-layer fence parallel to each other, as signed into law by former president Bush. Currently waiting in the wings is Lamar Smith's 'Legal Workforce Act' that disinclined GOP leaders who are wavering in bringing (H.R. 2885 bill) to the floor of the House. It’s blatantly obvious the usual suspects have been whining at these lawmakers door, from the Special Interest lobbyists. Mandating E-Verify could easily be the epitome of returning America to the “Rule of Law” for all law-abiding Americans. It could be foreseen as a series of steps, to curtail the foothold baby- citizenship financial dilemma, probably one of the highest costs to taxpayers. Illegal aliens unable to procure work, will pack up their possessions and leave.

    In a study by the (FAIR) Federation of American Immigration Reform, they have estimated that somewhere between 20 million and upwards of illegal immigrants have unlawful roots here, not the numbers offered by previous or today’s administrations. The investment firm analysts for Bear-Stearns claimed that the US illegal immigrant population, also agreed with this number of 20 million people." This was prior to the demise of the company in 2008.

    Much of these illegal entries has attributed to the 49 Percent of poverty in the United States. Since 1963 the U.S. has spent over $11 trillion on anti-poverty programs, given out money, food, Section 8 housing, medical care, and assistance to the poor and near underprivileged. Since the immigration reforms of the 1960s, the U.S. has imported unsustainable poverty through immigration measures that were permitted and encouraged entry and the residence of millions of low-skill immigrants into the nation. Low-skill migrants and immigrants are liable to be poor, having babies who, in turn, are adding to America's propagating poverty problem, driving up governmental benefits, public service, and education costs. We are now topping $113 billion dollars annually, as according to the Heritage Foundation.

    Under the Liberals, Democrats and GOP elitists nothing will ever be done, against the increasing numbers of foreign nationals coming here. The subsidizing costs are reaching astronomical unprecedented dollars, especially if President Obama passes Amnesty; if the voters offer him a second four year term a reform package would devastate any chance of climbing out this deepening recession. A 2.6 Trillion price tag as analyzed by the Heritage Foundation.

    Get in touch with Members of the Ways & Means Committee to phone or fax for free at NumbersUSA. You can also contact all these lawmakers through their Internet websites. But you insist on the Legal Workforce Act today and start putting Americans back to a job, taken by foreign nationals.

    Bombard Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) ((202-225-0600); House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) (202-225-2815); House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) (202) 225-2915); House Chairman of Ways & Means Committee Dave Camp (R-MI) (202-225-3561).
    NEBRASKA, Rep. Berg, Rick (GOP) (202-225-2611) ; NEBRASKA, Rep. Smith, Adrian (GOP) (202-225-6435); LOUISIANA, Rep. Boustany, Charles (GOP) (202-225-2031); (202-225-2031); KENTUCKY, Rep. Davis, Geoff (GOP) (202-225-3465); PENNSYLVANIA, Rep. Gerlach, Jim (GOP)(202-225-4315); KANSAS, Rep. Jenkins, Lynn (GOP)(202-225-6601); MINNESOTA, Rep. Paulsen, Erik (GOP)(202-225-2871); WASHINGTON, Rep. Reichert, Dave (GOP) (202-225-7761); WISCONSIN, Rep. Ryan, Paul (GOP) (202-225-3031) Tell these unwilling lawmakers that you are a voter and that they will be hearing from you in 2012.

    If you want to free fax, go to NumbersUSA or please call Washington at 202-224-3121 and ask for your U.S. Senator or Representative's office to urge action on mandatory E-Verify.

    First on the lists, a Bracero type program, to allow workers to be admitted for farm employment and agriculture legally, who can then—BE TRACKED--if they abscond from the jobs allocated to them? Between 1942 and 1964, some 4.6 million Mexicans were admitted to do farm work and despite protests from US farm labor advocacy groups there was no lack of labor, only a shortage of respectable living wages and decent working conditions. By paying a fair wage, but their conditions must include health care, schooling for their kids—not placed as a financial burden on taxpayers as it mostly is today. The Bracero project should be resurrected as with the 2006 Secure Fence Act with two fences--instead of the half--completed one fence we have now and decked with nasty concertina razor wire.

    Give a priority to highly skilled workers, with proven credentials of exceptional experiences and offer preferences to entrepreneurs, and wealthy businessman and women who can contribute to American society. Stop the travesty of the million legal immigrants a year, who are being covertly brought here by corporate owners through Department of Labor immigration loopholes. Through financial necessity we must reduce and stop illegal immigration at the porous borders, using one way flight tickets and using every tool available to seek out those already here. IF SOVEREIGNTY MINDED, PATRIOTIC AMERICANS WANT THERE COUNTRY BACK, AND THEN JOIN THE TENS OF MILLIONS OF MEMBERS OF THE TEA PARTY BRANCHES THROUGHOUT OUR NATION. THE TEA PARTY IS AN OPEN, FORUM FOR EVERY CITIZEN AND LEGAL RESIDENT, NO MATTER A PERSON RACE OR SPIRITUAL STANDING.

    Certainly in 2012 we must safe-guard our elections, as illegal aliens do vote and as it’s been predominately shown before.