Immigration Attack Could Backfire on Perry

October 19th, 2011 at 2:28 pm | 31 Comments |

| Print

In the short term at least, it seems hard to deny that yesterday’s debate was good to Rick Perry. The leading un-Romney contender, Herman Cain, sank underneath withering attacks on his 9-9-9 plan; his inability to defend the details of this plan with anything other than assertions that his opponents are wrong reinforced impressions that he still has a lot of policy areas to brush up on.

And Perry’s deeply personal attacks on Mitt Romney helped bring the focus of the debate back on himself. These attacks may help keep Perry as the media takeaway from the event seems to be focusing on how much he’s hurt Romney—not on the Texas governor’s verbal slips or policy haziness.

All this may provide a boost for Perry and keep him in the race. But his attack on Romney about immigration may eventually raise even more problems for Perry. Via Byron York, here’s the substance of the exchange:

And Perry, for the first time in any GOP debate, rattled former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. He did it by bringing up a 2007 charge that Romney hired illegal immigrants to do lawn work at his Massachusetts home. Jobs are the magnet for illegal immigrants, Perry said. “And Mitt, you lose all of your standing, from my perspective, because you hired illegals in your home and you knew about it for a year. And the idea that you stand here before us and talk about that you’re strong on immigration is on its face the height of hypocrisy.”

Romney tried to laugh it off and to deny the story. “I don’t think I’ve ever hired an illegal in my life,” he said. Romney tried to explain, but Perry kept pushing, leaving Romney protesting that Perry was ignoring the rules — just as Perry had planned.

“Rick, again, Rick, I’m speaking,” Romney said. “I’m speaking, I’m speaking, I’m speaking. You get 30 seconds. This is the way the rules work here…Anderson?”

By the time Romney appealed to CNN moderator Anderson Cooper for help, Romney seemed flustered, almost frantic. “Would you please wait?” he said to Perry. “Are you just going to keep talking?”

When Perry finally told Romney to “have at it,” Romney explained that he had hired a company to do lawn work and had no idea the company hired illegals until it was reported in the paper.

Perry has become known for his verbal imprecision in presidential debates, and his attack depends upon an indifference to the details of verbal meanings.

Romney “hired” illegal aliens, according to Perry, by paying a company that employed them to do a service. Under this definition of “employment,” anyone who goes to a restaurant that employs an illegal alien is also “employing” an illegal alien. A woman purchasing a candy bar from a supermarket with an illegal alien working at the deli counter is also “hiring” an illegal alien. By Perry’s definition of employment, he has probably “hired” countless illegal immigrants—at restaurants, stores, and so forth.

The point of Perry’s charge of hypocrisy was not to clarify the distinction between proclaimed position and actual practice but to shut down debate by casting an impossibly wide net of guilt. This appeal to hypocrisy to avoid a debate of policy principles is all too common in politics, especially at the federal level, so it’s perhaps no surprise to see Perry engaging in it here.

The point that primarily concerns American voters is not whether some individual candidate’s money ended up indirectly in the pocket of some illegal immigrant. The point that ought to concern us is whether a candidate thinks it is good to have the workforce be flooded with millions and millions of illegal workers. Romney’s record as governor and his rhetoric as president demonstrate that he thinks that might be a problem for this country. Rick Perry’s rhetoric and record—from his opposition to E-Verify to his support for major taxpayer subsidies for illegal aliens—suggests that he doesn’t think that’s such a big problem, if a problem at all. Both positions are understandable, but they are quite different, and we should not blur those important policy distinctions.

Ironically, Perry’s attack on Romney may leave Perry open to accusations of being a flip-flopper. Supposedly Romney hiring a company that (unknown to him, so he says) employs illegal aliens is to be a thing of outrage. But someone is also “heartless” if he doesn’t support giving tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayer subsidies to illegal aliens. It’s hard to square that circle. And such a Texas two-step seems more motivated by political opportunism than anything else.

One of Perry’s distinguishing characteristics has been his reputation as a straight-shooter. If Perry tarnishes that reputation by contradictory attacks on his political opponents, he may find his standing further erode in the polls.

Originally Posted at A Certain Enthusiasm.

Recent Posts by Fred Bauer

31 Comments so far ↓

  • Oldskool

    Whatever. In the meantime, let’s speculate on the number two spot. Would Romney go with a crazy to bring out the crazy vote? Or go with a sane old trooper, like we thought Cheney was.

  • Watusie

    Whatever, in deed. Romney and Perry trying to score points off each other while the millions of Hispanic American citizens say to themselves this party is simply nuts.

    In the meantime, without demonizing anyone, the Obama Administration has continued to escalate the number of illegal aliens deported for the third straight year.

    Oldskool, what about the Democratic number two spot. What would happen if Joe Biden “decided to retire” and was replaced on the ticket by Charlie Gonzalez, the D Congressman from San Antonio? And the opponent is Romney? Does anti-Mormon bias among southern evangelicals + a Texan on the D ticket = Texas being in play? Is Texas possibly even in play with Biden on the ticket? A nightmare for the Republicans. McCain knew he had Texas and its huge wad of electoral votes in the bank and so spent no time and money there; if Romney can’t do the same, then he has significantly fewer resources available for the states that he has flip if he is going to prevail.

    • valkayec

      Or speculate on L.A.’s mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa? He’s successfully run a big city for several years, is highly respected amongst all Hispanics, and has national name recognition.

    • Oldskool

      Some are saying Clinton may swap jobs with Biden. That would be interesting for sure, considering her poll numbers are very high, avoiding controversy like she has. Otoh, I think Biden has generated a lot of goodwill so there’s no real reason to move him anywhere. Rs would make a big deal out of it, so..

      There’s no telling who Romney would pick.

    • Oldskool

      The idea being Clinton would have a springboard for 2016 but I don’t think it’s on her plate.

      Usually, Rs pick one of the other candidates but with such a weak bench, Romney would probably pick a governor from one of the states he’d need to win. Rubio tried to say no but kept saying it wrong. So far, it looks like a total fubar for team-R.

  • valkayec

    So, how are these two really different from each other? While that tear at each other like school yard kids, they both adhere to the same “no immigration” Tea Party policy. Meanwhile, tens of millions of people are out of work still and people across the country are protesting not just Wall St practices, profits and bonuses but that the entire system is corrupt and the deck stacked against them. When will the GOP and its candidates address those issues? Oh, and don’t tell me there’s the GOP “Real American Jobs Plan” ’cause we all know it’s nothing but repackaged Bush 2 economics.

  • Houndentenor

    Perry is on thin ice here. There’s hardly a single person in Texas with a middle class income or higher who hasn’t at some point hired an illegal worker to do yard work, roof their house, take care of their children, etc., especially if we include workers who came in via a contractor, as was the case he is trying to use against Romney. I doubt it would take much digging to come up with a similar situation involving Perry (or virtually any other politicians, for that matter).

  • drdredel

    In the short term at least, it seems hard to deny that yesterday’s debate was good to Rick Perry

    Sorry, that’s as far as I got in your article…

    I thought he sounded like a spoiled, petulant, know-nothing, elementary school yard brat. At what point did you see him saying or doing anything that “looked good”… or did you just have the sound off?

  • JohnnyA

    Call me crazy but I’d say hyper focusing on a manufactured illegal immigration ‘crisis’ instead of serious debate and serious proposals to solve the current economic crisis could and will backfire on the Republican party.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    When Perry finally told Romney to “have at it,” Romney explained that he had hired a company to do lawn work and had no idea the company hired illegals until it was reported in the paper…. Under this definition of “employment,” anyone who goes to a restaurant that employs an illegal alien is also “employing” an illegal alien

    That is absolute garbage of an analogy. For one, these are people who are on your property, it is kind of hard not to notice one yelling “hey Jose dame una agua por favor.” Maybe Mitt things that is lawncare language.
    My mother hires a lawn care company and damn well we know the person who comes and cuts her lawn every week, and while it is theoretically possible he is an illegal Canadian immigrant the chances of that are basically nil.
    Now it is possible he had his head butler tell his downstairs butler to hire a lawncare service, but that isn’t exactly something most people can relate to either.

    Basically Bauer is in the tank for Romney and will spin any analogy he can, no matter how ridiculous, in defense of him. Face it, the issue hurts Romney, pretending it doesn’t is silly or that it can even somehow backfire on Perry is just a reach. Just admit it and argue that it is not likely to be a big deal since Romney has dozens of homes and has employees who handle such menial tasks.

    • more5600

      So according to your logic, if a person speaks Spanish that is the telltale sign that they are an illegal, good luck with that in the South West.

  • Houndentenor

    When you break down the 2008 numbers, the biggest shift from R to D was among hispanic voters. Why then is the GOP going so far out of its way to alienate voters they need to win back in 2012?

    Also, I don’t think Texas will be in play in 2012, but by 2016 I think the GOP will not be able to take a state with such a large hispanic population for granted. Remember that California used to be a swing state!

  • Graychin

    In the course of Perry’s boorish behavior, he did grave damage to Romney. Or, rather, he baited Romney into damaging himself.

    “I can’t have illegals here – I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake!” But not a problem if he wasn’t running? It reinforces his reputation as a guy who puts electoral needs ahead of principle. As a hollow man.

    We’re going to see that clip a lot between now and election day.

  • Brittanicus

    In Las Vegas last night the best yet presidential candidate’s debate, the sixth people standing behind their lecterns pledged a stand against the illegal immigration occupation. However, all the Republicans remained somewhat tough-tied, when it comes to an overall coherent agenda that could resolve most of this nation’s illegal alien issue.

    As in the statement by the pro-sovereignty organizations and restricting of legal immigration NumbersUSA site during this deep recession: The plan is simple, reasonable and equally achievable. Any candidate on the platform could win the hearts and admiration of millions of voters, including the tens of millions of Tea Party members by adopting this plan and learning to articulate its worth.

    This is a five step plan, to each of your favorite presidential candidates, which should include current President Obama. By going to NumbersUSA website you can study each grading for each potential personage. On the grid, you can click on any photograph to access the contact information.


    1. By securing the border as addressed in the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which Michelle Bachmann outlined in the debate.

    2. A goal of reversing illegal immigration.

    The federal government’s goal relating to illegal immigration should be to reduce the number of illegal aliens in our country, over a period of time and in a orderly fashion using every means possible. Representative Lamar Smith’s LEGAL WORKFORCE ACT” is a great beginning and should be mandatory act.

    Halting illegal immigration as it now, isn’t enough. Securing the borders as it is now, isn’t enough.

    The US authorities have to affect 20 million plus foreigners, to return to their homeland. So instead of America becoming an importer of people, we have to append more resources to de-magnetizing the attraction and become a net exporter of illegal immigration annually.

    A conscientious approach to illegal immigration would seek to craft a program, a number of illegal aliens who leave the country annually greater than the number who enter the country–annually. Experts who study these policies judge that we could attain a net outflow between one million and two million per year by implementing or enhancing a handful of procedures that are already known to be effective, and in fact are largely premised on existing law. Namely:
    • turning off the jobs magnet by requiring workplace verification of legal status (i.e., requiring all employers to use the existing but not-yet-mandatory program known as E-Verify); Waiting for a floor vote, but held back by some Republican politicians.
    • turning off various other magnets such as in-state tuition, drivers licenses and birthright citizenship;
    • Building an effective, physical fence on the Mexican border; The 2006 Secure Fence Act planned as a double layer fence, stretching the majority of the border, with the top lined with concertina razor wire. Between fences a no-man’s land for use of mobile Border Patrol units and military troops.
    • deploying a reliable check-in/check-out system for visitors to the United States (i.e., fixing the current program known as US VISIT); and
    • Enforcing existing deportation laws to perhaps double the effect of current enforcement.
    These five measures alone should reduce our illegal alien population by half in less than six years. Let us consider each measure in turn.


    turning off the jobs magnet.

    By far the most significant means of reversing illegal immigration is to stop illegal aliens from holding jobs. Without jobs, most illegal aliens will find it difficult to support themselves and will return home.

    Candidates would do well to endorse House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith’s Legal Workforce Act (Bill H.R. 2885)because it accomplishes more than required E-Verify for new hires and sets up systems for identifying and firing illegal aliens who have obtained jobs with stolen identities. 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.

    We need to hear candidates pledge as President to fully enforce every aspect of this legislation.

    Turning off other magnets.

    For the same rationale the jobs magnet should be turned off, so too should all the other magnets. One example is in-state tuition (Dream Act) for illegal aliens. There are others such as the current privilege of not paying for health care in hospitals. The biggest, however, is birthright citizenship: the granting of American citizenship to a child merely because he or she was born here, even if to illegal alien parents. The later is by far the costliest taxpayer support mechanism, as misinterpreted in the 14th Amendment.

    Building an effective, physical fence.

    Effective, physical fencing along the Mexican border (i.e., a wall where that is fitting, or a double-fence with a barrier road between the fences where that is appropriate) is a well-established and bi-partisan idea. Congress has already authorized the building of an effective, physical fence along about 700 miles of the 2000-mile southern border. Building that 700-mile stretch of fence is a good start. An even enhanced policy would build 1,000 miles of effective fencing encompassing the entire 800-mile ground border between San Diego and El Paso, plus another 200 miles of the most desirable river border in Texas. As a practical matter, most experts believe it is not necessary to fence the entire 2,000-mile southern border, but that theory can be tested over time. If 1,000 miles of fencing proves insufficient, we can build more.

    And to be effective, fencing must have the appropriate level of Border Patrol and detection technology.

    Deploying a check-in/check-out system.

    30-40% of illegal aliens first enters the United States on legal visas and then overstay. Although Congress authorized a check-in and check-out system in 1996, no President has fully implemented it. It isn’t working and so we need an efficient method of tracking foreign nationals. The current US-VISIT system, for example, makes virtually no effort to have the 45 million foreign visitors each year check out. And Congress exempts most Canadians and Mexicans. The problems with US-VISIT can all be fixed without undue expense or genuine controversy.

    Enforcing existing deportation laws to perhaps double the effects of current enforcement.

    Deportations reduce our illegal alien population directly. They also discourage illegal entry into the United States in the first place, and they encourage illegal aliens already here to leave voluntarily. As of now, we deport less than 4% of the illegal alien population each year (despite 100% of that population being legally eligible for deportation). Under current policy, large numbers of people who are identified by law enforcement as probable illegal aliens are never placed into deportation proceedings. THEY WALK! And large numbers of those who are subjected to proceedings and ordered deported abscond or are otherwise allowed by the federal government to avoid their deportation orders. A President could perhaps double the number of illegal aliens who leave the country as a result of existing detection without any change in law by Congress by increasing cooperation between local law enforcement and the feds, by reducing the opportunities for illegal aliens to abscond after deportation orders and by requesting that Congress provide more funds for ICE agents, immigration judges and detention capacity.


    This spreading illegal population problem will stop over time and the $113 Billion Dollars, taxpayers spend to subsidize these people.
    One Old Vet saying, “Stand next to me and you’ll never stand alone.”

    • armstp1

      What a bunch of BS this post is. Is this a troll? Did this guy cut and paste from one of these anti-immigrant racist groups?

      Brittanicus can you explain to us why you think illegal immigration is such a problem? Why would you want to deport the 10 million illegals in this country?


      “FAIR, CIS and NumbersUSA are all part of a network of restrictionist organizations conceived and created by John Tanton, the “puppeteer” of the nativist movement and a man with deep racist roots…CIS was conceived by Tanton and began life as a program of FAIR. CIS presents itself as a scholarly think tank that produces serious immigration studies meant to serve “the broad national interest.” But the reality is that CIS has never found any aspect of immigration that it liked, and it has frequently manipulated data to achieve the results it seeks.”

    • Rob_654

      Actually I would prefer to allow illegals from all over the world in – we keep the smart ones first, then the hard working ones – and we get rid of native born Americans who aren’t so smart and that are lazy.

      That is the way a Capitalistic country should operate – we want the best of the best without regard to a silly artificial border line.

    • JohnnyA

      I think this forum would be much more effective if there were smaller limits to post sizes ;-)

  • armstp1


    If you caught Frontline on Tuesday night, you know that Obama has done more regarding enforcing immigration law in this country than any GOP President or any President before.

    Check out the episode:

    Record Number of Illegal Immigrants Deported in 2011

    Today, Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton announced that 396,906 people were deported during the 2011 fiscal year, the largest number in ICE’s history.

    “These year-end totals indicate that we are making progress, with more convicted criminals, recent border crossers, egregious immigration law violators and immigration fugitives being removed from the country than ever before,” said Morton.

    While the numbers are historic, they’re not dramatically larger than 2010 deportations, which were reported at “more than 392,000.”

    • Rob_654

      Exactly and that is something that I don’t really understand from a political point of view.

      The Right Wing who are the big time “Get the illegals out of here” folks will never give credit to Obama for the increased deportations and increased security on the border (they just continually lie about the record) – and yet Obama has increased deportations and security at the expense of support from his base and the Hispanic voters in general.

      Obama might as well (as it looks like he is now) move back to making his base happier and making the Hispanic base happier because sooner or later he will figure out that the Right Wing will NEVER like him and will never vote for him no matter what he does that they always say they want done.

      • anniemargret

        The Right’s hate for him is visceral. 2% is because of his policies, of which many of them haven’t either bothered to understand, or won’t because they are ‘liberal’, (even if it benefits them!), and 98% of them hate him because they are convinced through vicious right wing propaganda that he is:

        1) a Kenyan 2) a Marxist 3) a Communist 4) a Muslim 5) not a Christian (their kind of Christian) 6) he’s a black guy from Chicago, or 7) a Klingon

        And there’s 8) all of the above

        • armstp1

          I think like 80% of the people in this country will eventually really like the healthcare reform or ACA and in 10 years people will be saying how did we ever live without, just like they are saying in MASS today. It is ashame the Romney is actually not standing up and being proud of his healthcare reform.

          Even if Obama is a one term President he will go down as a very important President for passing healthcare reform. Something that he can be proud of.

          It is funny, I have not heard even one really good argument over the last year, even from some reasonably smart people, including Frum, why Obama’s healthcare reform is actually bad or what is wrong with it. If someone could give me 5 really good reasons why Obama’s healthcare reform is not a good idea I would like to hear them. I think single-payer would have been better, but that is not a reason why the ACA is bad.

        • Houndentenor

          Are any Republicans going to give Obama credit for deporting record numbers of illegal aliens this year? I won’t be holding my breath.

        • Bingham

          It’s not their country. They’re uninvited. I don’t care if half of them leave. They shouldn’t be here in the first place.

  • hisgirlfriday

    Seemed to me this attack was as much to remind people that Mitt was richer than they are (and richer than poor son of tenant farmer Perry) as it was to attack on immigration.

    That Mitt’s excuse for not knowing he had illegals working on his property is that his property is too vast or his grounds so great that he has to hire a whole company to take care of his lawn and not just hire one person to cut grass is just not something most people can relate to.

    • JohnnyA

      I can relate to it and I’m far from a billionaire. I’ve got a rental property where the renters don’t want to mow the lawn or do yard work. So I hired the lawn company that does a few neighbors’ yards and we added the cost of lawn services to the rental fee. I don’t live at that address and even if I did, the chances are small I would ever meet the person or people that mow the lawn during the week because I am either at an office or traveling at those times.

      And if I showed up one day and saw them talking in Spanish/Korean/Ukrainian/etc , that means they’re illegal immigrants?

      I’m just a regular guy with a day job that keeps me very busy. No time to play the illegal immigrant witch hunt. Especially over who mows the lawn. I pay just south of 200 bucks a month to weekly mow a lawn I can mow in less than an hour. Plenty of kids and a few unemployed folks in that neighborhood that could use the money and have the free time, but no takers…

  • Frumplestiltskin

    Johnny A, this is not your own home. I presume you would know who mows your own private lawn.
    And yeah, if it is lawn care or dishwashing and you hear people speaking foreign languages it is not a big jump to assume that they might be illegal aliens. Since you are a private citizen no one really cares but Romney was a politician, he said on stage that the reason why he shouldn’t be considered to knowingly hire illegals is because he was running for Governor and it would have looked bad, which was a freudian slip if there ever was one.

    Also, notice how condescending Romney is in physically molesting Perry. Why the hell is Romney touching Perry?

    • JohnnyA

      Frumple, actually for the last 2 years I lived in a house with a lawn that needed mowing, I never saw the crew or person that mowed it, nor did I see the mailman. Neither did most of my neighbors, we were out working that time of day.

      With that said, I agree Romney did himself no favors with the “hey I’m a presidential candidate, we can’t do this” line. But honestly, I don’t care who mows his lawn or washes his dishes or where/if he prays. When I see a candidate play that card I see it for what it is, the candidate doesn’t have their own content. I’m more interested in seeing if he has a solid plan for the economy and foreign policy, and I think Romney’s miles ahead of Perry in those areas.

      I did see ‘the touch’ and thought it was great. For a second I wondered if we would see some mano a mano action. Call me a caveman, but I actually would be much more inclined to vote for Romney if he had bested Perry in such a scuffle. The debates seem to be working their way down to the intellectual level of a WWF match anyway… ;-)

  • more5600

    This only made Perry look small and quite desperate, an attack like this should be done by surrogates. Romney hired a company to cut his grass and the company hired illegals, I think that is the companies problem, meanwhile Perry paid for the illegal’s children’s college education, knowingly and unapologetic. It’s a losing fight for Perry in this context, the flailing of a drowning man.

  • Banty

    Fred Bauer is right about this. My reaction to Perry harping on this is – - if that’s the best he has, Romney must be pretty clean on this.

    It is quite simply beyond any individuals’ sphere of affirmative responsibility to ascertain that any and every good and service they buy and hire are produced legally. We can’t be sure which garage-sale items ‘fell off a truck’. If we turned away from any establishment where we hear Spanish spoken in the kitchen or the back dock, we’d have to stay at home. Legal immigrants speak their native language to each other. Native born people (esp. in the southwest) with roots deeper than the members of the Daughters of the American Revolution speak Spanish to each other.

    My lawn care company shows up with a mix of people who are apparently American white, and who are apparently Mexican or Central American. Even if I were to ask The Question, how can I be sure of the answer? Am I to only hire a lawn care company where I am sure there are no illegals? Tell you what – there’s a way for me to be more sure, and it involves not hiring anyone who in turn hires anyone brown. Where would that get us??

    As much as I shudder at some of the stuff Herman Cain comes up with, he’s the only person actually talking about getting the “front door fixed” (streamlining legal immigration). That’s the only real way to address this.