Technically Gingrich didn’t accuse him of anything, he just strongly insinuated it. It’s Romney who’s going for the jugular:

“My view is that people who come here illegally should not have a special break or a special pathway to become permanent residents or citizens of this country,” Romney said, speaking at a campaign stop at Nationwide Insurance in downtown Des Moines. “They should be in line or at the back of the line with other people who want to come here illegally.”…

Further pressed on whether he thinks Gingrich’s remarks qualify as amnesty, Romney said ”it certainly was.”

“But he didn’t go on to describe the people who have been here 20 years. How about 12 years, 10, five, three. How many children do you have to have to apply this principle,” Romney continued. “He didn’t describe that. The real issue is are we going to spend our time talking about how extensively we have amnesty.”

As frequently happens in GOP squabbles over immigration, they’re defining “amnesty” in different ways. Romney’s defining it as any special treatment for illegals: Because Gingrich wants local community boards to consider the cases of illegals who have been here for 25 years rather than sending them to the back of the line of citizenship applicants, he’s for amnesty. Gingrich is defining it in terms of citizenship: Because Romney would allow illegals to become citizens if they go to the back of the line, pay back taxes, have a clean criminal record, etc, he’s for amnesty. (Gingrich’s own plan would not let longstanding illegals become citizens, remember. It would grant them some sort of second-class status akin to permanent residency.) What they’re really arguing about at bottom is whose plan will create a stronger incentive for people to cross the border. Citizenship is irrelevant to most illegals, I suspect, as long as they’re granted the right to stay permanently so I’m not sure Gingrich’s plan has any real advantage. He does potentially have an advantage by requiring a lengthy stay to qualify, which would leave all but a few older illegals still subject to deportation. When Philip Klein tried to pin Mitt’s spokesman down last night on what Romney would require of illegals who are currently here, he got the runaround. Since Gingrich is already in for a penny on this subject, he might as well go in for a pound and start pressing Romney to elaborate on his own plan. Watching Mitt squirm while he tries to thread the needle between conservative orthodoxy and appealing to Hispanics in the general would probably annoy the base more than Newt’s answer did last night.

Which is not to say the Gingrich plan is the answer. Read Mickey Kaus and these two smart posts by Mark Krikorian for problems with the “red card” system. (Krikorian notes that Gingrich’s time frame fits perfectly with the 1986 mass amnesty, such that it would essentially grandfather in everyone who didn’t qualify under that law at the time.) Whether or not it’s a greater or lesser incentive for border-crossing than Romney’s plan, it’s still an incentive, in which case why entice would-be illegals with any prospect of permanent residence before the border is secure? And if, to use Gingrich’s words, “humane” treatment of illegals is the touchstone, why set the cut-off mark for red-card status at 25 years? Amnesty shills would go to work on that instantly, demanding 20 years, then 15, then 10 and then five to qualify. In fact, why require a cut-off at all for illegals with kids born on American soil? Is it humane to break up that family? And why on earth would you allow local boards to set the standards for red-card status when that’ll guarantee a flood of illegals into blue states to take advantage of the easy qualifications there (followed by migration to other states)? The whole country would be forced to accommodate the most lenient liberal standards from the country’s most liberal cities. And remember, all of this will be subject to intense political pressure by Democrats eager to pander for Hispanic votes by softening the program’s requirements. The 25-year cut-off is the best-case scenario. The final program would be worse, and it would get even worse over time.

Two immigration videos while you mull, one of Romney’s “Meet the Press” appearance in 2007 and the other of a campaign appearance in 2008. Gingrich snipped a damning bit from the MTP interview for his tweet today, but I’m giving you the full context. Romney’s clearly opposed to “amnesty” but he’s also clearly willing to tolerate citizenship for illegals under certain vague circumstances. Square that circle.