Via Breitbart TV, the most buzzworthy answer of the night. Some people on Twitter thought it was a breakthrough on immigration for a Republican debate, others thought it would blow a hole in his candidacy the same way Perry’s answer on in-state tuition did to his in September. What you’re seeing here, in fact, is really just a rewrite of the latter’s infamous point about heartlessness by a guy who’s much slicker at debating. Neither one is endorsing citizenship for illegals, just greater integration of those who have been here long enough that uprooting them would cause great personal disruption. Gingrich’s position is arguably more defensible than Perry’s since he’s not calling for any taxpayer subsidies; Perry’s is arguably more defensible than Gingrich’s since he’s focused on kids who were brought here by their parents, not people who crossed the border illegally of their own volition. I think Newt’s going to get away with this partly because of the difference in tone — his answer seems even milder than it is thanks to the standard set by Perry’s “heartless” remark — and partly because, as we get closer to the general, the base will tolerate a bit more centrism on immigration in the name of wooing Hispanics in the general. We nominated McCain, didn’t we?
How we’re going to decide who’s been here “long enough,” I don’t know, just as I don’t know how sustainable it would be to have a two-tiered system of citizens and illegals made quasi-legal but presumably not allowed to vote under Gingrich’s system. The pressure to amnestize the latter would be enormous. We’ll hear more as Newt is inevitably grilled on this. But lest you think this will kill him among the base, here’s a tantalizing tidbit breaking late this evening from RCP. Is Newt about to land the Palin endorsement? Quote:
While Palin has characteristically kept her cards close to her chest, advisers suggest that the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee is likely to endorse before someone emerges as the inevitable nominee — and that Newt Gingrich appears to be best-positioned to secure her support.
“They speak very favorably of Newt and what they see as his credentials as compared to Perry and Romney,” one member of Palin’s inner circle said of the former Alaska governor and her husband, Todd, who has long served as her unofficial chief adviser.
Two clips here, one from the debate and the other, via Greg Hengler, shortly afterwards as he elaborates on the immigration answer.
Update: Since we’re on the subject of potentially game-changing endorsements, are you ready for this? From C-SPAN’s Steve Scully: “Sources indicate Mike Huckabee is set to endorse Mitt Romney, adding another key element to Romney’s Iowa strategy. Stay tuned”. How can Huck endorse Mitt before he hosts that candidate forum on Fox on December 3?
Update: Philip Klein was in the spin room after the debate. Here we go:
“Newt Gingrich supported the 1986 amnesty act, and even though he conceded that was a mistake, he said that he was willing to repeat that mistake, by extending amnesty to immigrants who are illegally in the country today,” Romney adviser and spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said in the spin room following the AEI/Heritage Foundation debate in Washington, DC. “Mitt Romney is against amnesty, and Newt Gingrich made it very clear he was for amnesty.”…
I asked [Gingrich spokesman J.C. Hammond] to compare this position to conservatives who would define amnesty as legalizing anybody who had ever come here illegally.
“Newt is for a local, community review board where local citizens can decide whether or not their neighbors that have come here illegally should find a path to legality, not citizenship,” he said. “Two distinctly different things.”
Not even a uniform national standard, then? Huh.
Follow the link and read the full exchange between Klein and Romney spokesman Fehrnstrom, who tried to duck his question about what Mitt would do with longtime illegals no fewer than six times.