Not by design, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is proving that appearing to be more concerned about illegal-alien workers than about unemployed Americans doesn't work in Republican primaries. Widely expected a week ago to run away with the Florida Straw Poll yesterday, he finished in a virtual four-way tie for second, more than 20 points behind the winner.
As always among American voters, there were surely several factors behind Florida's most energized Republican voters deserting Gov. Perry. But most commentators and pollsters have included his seeming softness on illegal immigration during the Florida debate Thursday night as a crucial reason.
Strangely, the debate audience booed him while he was repeating his strong stand on securing the border. Obviously, that wasn't because the audience opposes border security but because voters have gotten wise to the fact that if the only strong enforcement stance a candidate takes is about the border the chances are that the candidate is weak on all other enforcement.
Whether or not the appearance is reality, Gov. Perry in a series of debates has given the impression that he isn't all that concerned about immigration issues as long as the borders are secure. He has been given opportunity after opportunity to show some concern for the victims of illegal immigration, but instead he spends his time talking about his compassion for illegal aliens, including suggesting that those who don't share his compassion don't have a heart.
Sen. John McCain discovered very quickly in 2007 that he would not become the GOP nominee for President in 2008 if he didn't get rid of his image as the Senate's biggest softie on immigration. For some reason -- maybe it is the same Texas political culture that formed George Bush -- Gov. Perry appears to have believed that he could play by different rules than those that changed Sen. McCain.
Gov. Perry has come under relentless criticism from most other GOP candidates for his signing a law -- and steadfastly defending it -- to give taxpayer-subsidized in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens while denying the same benefit to U.S. citizens from other states. My own opinion is that, while I oppose in-state tuition because it is just one more incentive for illegal aliens to remain in the country, this is a relatively minor part of our overall immigration problems. Perry ought to be able to deflect the criticism of that action if he would come out four-square in favor of national mandatory workplace verification and other systems to take away the jobs magnet for illegal aliens and open up jobs for unemployed Americans -- and if he would promise to fully enforce the immigration laws already on the books, something never done by Pres. Bush or Pres. Obama. But voters haven't heard or seen an ounce of interest in that direction from Perry.
Some news organizations are suggesting that Perry is unlikely to fall in the statewide voter polls as much as he did in the straw poll of local GOP Party leaders. But this loss among the most politically active Republicans in the state who were paying the most attention this week should be a sign to all candidates that treating illegal immigration as if it doesn't deserve strong, multi-faceted opposition is going to be a serious drag on a campaign.
-- ROY BECK is Founder & CEO of NumbersUSA
Updated: Thu, May 11th 2017 @ 4:33pm EDT