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Shields and Gerson on Immigration Reform, Gingrich’s 2012 Bid

May 13, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson discuss top political news, including the realities of immigration reform and the shape of the 2012 GOP presidential field.

JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Gerson. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. David Brooks is off tonight.

Picking up on what Secretary Napolitano told Judy, Mark, where do you see the prospects for immigration reform in the short run?

MARK SHIELDS: I see it more politically than I do statutorily, Jim.

I mean, the reality is that there — first of all, there’s not going to be a major immigration bill pass the Congress between now and Election Day.

JIM LEHRER: Why not?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, for a whole host of reasons. I mean, one is, it’s not on anybody’s agenda. And, secondly, there’s no consensus.

The party — the Republican Party has moved from the position of President Bush, who was — worked with people like Sen. Kennedy, and who, by the way, got 43 percent of the Latino vote in 2004. In 2008, that fell down to 31 percent for John McCain, 67 percent for Barack Obama.

It’s — at 16 percent in the census, they are now the largest minority in the country, Latinos are. And one — almost one out of four people in this country under the age of 17 is Latino. So, it’s politically important, especially in states like Nevada and New Mexico and Gov. Napolitano’s Arizona, in New Mexico, Colorado. Those are important — that’s an important vote. So, it’s going to get attention, but it’s not going to get any…


Do agree with that, Michael?


I think the president’s speech in Texas was a political speech. But being political doesn’t mean that it’s cynical. The president would prefer to see a comprehensive reform. He’s welcome to talk about that. Symbolism is very important in ethnic politics.

Republicans, the last few years, have been providing symbols of exclusion, talking about changing the 14th Amendment, and the Arizona law, the crackdown there. Obama wants to provide some symbols of inclusion, for political reasons. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not, eventually, enough. If the economy doesn’t improve, Hispanics will feel that as well and react in that way.

But the president is well within his rights to make that case.

JIM LEHRER: Well, as Mark pointed out, President Bush, for whom you have worked, he was in favor of immigration reform that had both parts, right, that it took care of — or it dealt with the issue of illegal immigrants who are already in the country and also about sealing the border better, right?

MICHAEL GERSON: And he made some of those arguments that Secretary Napolitano was making on this program…


MICHAEL GERSON: … which is, if you want to get control of the border, you have to have some regular way to have guest workers come into the United States, and be registered, instead of, you know, crossing the border illegally. That’s an important complement to controlling the problem at the border itself.

These are — you know, it is a bipartisan issue. It has been in the past. But it has almost no chance in the current Congress.

JIM LEHRER: What — in shorthand, what happened? Why — where did the — why did the consensus go away?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, it’s — I think it’s a tough question.

Some of it is, the Republican Party is not the Republican Party of George W. Bush. It doesn’t have a leader that makes this case. It also — you know, Bush failed within his own party. There was a revolt against it.

JIM LEHRER: He couldn’t get it done. Yes.

MICHAEL GERSON: He couldn’t get it done. And it was a talk radio issue all across the country within the conservative community. And they turned against the legislation strongly.

So, I think that that has burned a lot of Republicans. They know it is a tough thing among their own constituents. And, so…

MARK SHIELDS: Practically speaking, Jim, in an increasingly less white country, as — which the United States is, the Republican Party has become an increasingly more white party. And that’s a real political problem, just the arithmetic that works against them.


Well, Michael, staying on the Republicans for a moment, the Republican presidential nomination race, over — what is your overview of it right now, as we speak?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I have spent a little time recently in Iowa and New Hampshire.


MICHAEL GERSON: There’s a lot of people that are expressing marginal support for this candidate or that, but a lot of talk of who might get in. That’s kind of where we are, whether it is Mitch Daniels, or Gov. Christie of New Jersey, or — or Mike Huckabee, which we might find out more about soon.

When I was in Iowa, and talking with Gov. Branstad there, he said you would have to consider Huckabee the — the front-runner in Iowa.

JIM LEHRER: And the word is that people — he said today that he is going to have a major announcement tomorrow about this. But he didn’t say whether he is going to go or not.

MICHAEL GERSON: I talked to key Huckabee people in Iowa. And Huckabee has told them, “I’m genuinely undecided.”

JIM LEHRER: Genuinely…

MICHAEL GERSON: He’s, you know, honestly — honestly, you know, gone back and forth about the issues. At least, that is what he is telling his own supporters in Iowa.

JIM LEHRER: Have you picked up anything on this one?

MARK SHIELDS: I do not know. Those are the terrible words that a pundit is…

JIM LEHRER: Oh, you’re never…


MARK SHIELDS: I do not know

JIM LEHRER: Hey, come on.

MARK SHIELDS: I mean, I cannot believe — I mean, I think the nomination is up for Mike Huckabee’s grabs. I mean, I think he…

JIM LEHRER: You think he could win it?

MARK SHIELDS: I think he is considered the favorite in Iowa. He’s got to be — he’s the regional candidate.

JIM LEHRER: He won it before, yes.

MARK SHIELDS: There’s no Haley Barbour in the race.


MARK SHIELDS: Newt Gingrich is not a Southerner. I mean, he had a Georgia House seat, but he’s been a Washington figure for the past 15 years.

I mean, so, Mike Huckabee in South Carolina and Iowa, two of the first four tests, I would say you would have to say he’s no worse than an even bet in those four. And I think, as a retail politician, he’s as good as anybody in either party. And if he could spend the time retailing — that is, meeting voters in small groups — in a place like New Hampshire, he could really, I think, make a dent.

JIM LEHRER: Well, let’s go through some of the folks that we know are — who are in. Newt Gingrich came in this week. What are your thoughts about his chances?

MARK SHIELDS: Newt Gingrich will — there will be one idea. Bill — this is Bill McInturff’s observation, Republican pollster. There will be one idea that Newt Gingrich introduces that nobody else has thought of that will become part of the agenda, part of the debate. That’s — he is…

JIM LEHRER: You don’t know what the idea is.

MARK SHIELDS: I have no idea what it will be.

JIM LEHRER: But there will be one.

MARK SHIELDS: But it will be an interesting idea.

Newt Gingrich — Walker Percy, the great Southern writer, described Newt Gingrich — he didn’t have in him in mind — when he said, do not be the kind of person who gets all A’s and flunks ordinary living.


MARK SHIELDS: And that is — that is Newt Gingrich’s fault. He will not be president of the United States. He will be an interesting candidate, but he will not be president of the United States

JIM LEHRER: Michael.

MICHAEL GERSON: I think I agree with that. I mean, he’s — he has a lot of baggage from his own personal background. He makes a lot of gaffes.

His wind works too quickly sometimes for his — for his mouth. And I think that a lot of Republicans view him as kind of the ghost of revolutions past. I mean, he is identified with the 1990s, not necessarily with the future of the Republican Party.

So, you know, he will be good in the debates. And he will contribute to the discussion, there’s no question. But it’s hard to find people who think he’s going to be the nominee.

JIM LEHRER: Ron Paul formally announced today. He is officially in. He ran — he has run before, of course. He is a libertarian. What do you — what do you — how do you see his chances?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, in a lot of ways, this should be his moment, that kind of Tea Party moment. And he has the most committed supporters in the Republican field. They’re not a majority, but they are very strong.

Of course, he has kind of a libertarian loopiness when it comes to a lot of issues. He is for the legalization of prostitution and hard drugs. And, you know, it’s hard to run as a Republican and be the hooker and heroin candidate. It’s just very difficult.

So, I think there’s a limit, a ceiling on what he can accomplish in the race. But he will be a factor.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?

MARK SHIELDS: There are other Republicans who have already preempted the hooker constituency.


JIM LEHRER: Moving right along — moving right along, Mark.


MARK SHIELDS: But, no, I think that Ron Paul, you could say, Jim, is a stronger candidate today than he was in 2008, not simply because, as Michael points out, he has that committed base. He has financial support totally not commensurate with his vote totals.

I mean, he’s got people, so he will have money all the way through. But the Republican Party is a more conservative party today than it was in 2008. It’s far more concerned today than it — than it was then with fiscal sanity, of fiscal responsibility, and cutting the budget. That was Ron Paul.

Ron — there is a waning enthusiasm and support for the war in Afghanistan across the board, even among Republicans. Ron Paul has been on that one. So, I — his son got elected to the United States Senate in the interim.

So, he will not be nominated. He will not be elected. But he could shape the debate more than he did last time.

JIM LEHRER: All right, Mitt Romney made a speech on — in the — health care related, of course, to the health care plan that was enacted when he was governor of Massachusetts.

What did you think about that, and does that help him or hurt him?

MARK SHIELDS: He had to defend it for — first of all, it’s the signature achievement of his public career, the health care bill he passed in Massachusetts.

Secondly, the knock on Mitt Romney is that he is a little bit of a salesman, that, what do you need to cut this deal? I mean, you know, what do you want? Do you want a little abortion? Do you want a little gay rights? I’m willing to — and so he had to stick on this.


MARK SHIELDS: And, secondly, he is the front-runner, the perceived front-runner, if there is one. And he’s — everybody is going after him.

And this is the test of whether he has a glass jar, in boxing terms, whether he can take a punch. And he had to be — he had to be stalwart and steadfast on it. I think…

JIM LEHRER: He defended it. He defended it.

MARK SHIELDS: He defended it.

JIM LEHRER: He didn’t apologize.

MARK SHIELDS: I thought he did pretty well.


What do you think?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think he’s exceeded his quota of permissible flip-flops. There’s no way that he could do this on his major, you know, initiative.

It’s a real problem for him. I mean, this primary is going to be in many ways about Obamacare among Republicans. And it’s hard to distinguish much difference between Obamacare and Romneycare. And it’s a very difficult situation. It makes him a fragile front-runner.

JIM LEHRER: All right, back to those who are not in yet.

And Mitch Daniels — do you read it the same way others are reading it, that it seems like most of the mainline Republicans are pleading with Mitch Daniels to run, because they think he would — he would be the best candidate? Is that — am I picking up this — am I reading this correctly?

MICHAEL GERSON: Oh, I think he’s the establishment favorite in this. And he’s been a very effective governor, you know, on school choice, on controlling the budget, I mean, really one of the best Republican governors in the nation.

And I think people respect that. He has a kind of blunt manner that people like, and been a good populist in Indiana, which people underestimate. He drove his Harley around the state during his campaign. He stays at people’s homes. I think he would be a strong candidate, not necessarily a typical one. He doesn’t look like, you know, a normal candidate. But he would be a very good one.

JIM LEHRER: What is your reading on Daniels?

MARK SHIELDS: I think Mitch Daniels is an impressive person.

JIM LEHRER: Do you think he will go?

MARK SHIELDS: I do not know. I think it’s — that’s a personal…

JIM LEHRER: That’s twice you have said that you don’t know.

MARK SHIELDS: It’s a personal decision, Jim.

I mean, I thought Mario Cuomo was going to run in ’92, when he could have won the nomination and the White House. And he didn’t. You know, in the final analysis, this is going to be very personal, involving Mitch and his family, his four daughters in particular, who have reservations about his making the race.

He’s already won the pundits’ primary. I think that’s fair to say. I think Michael would agree. I mean, the pundits who have weighed in have cast their ballots, including David Brooks and others, for Mitch, which could be a liability in certain Republican circles.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of pundits, thank you both very much.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.