Punishing Perry on “Illegals”

ORLANDO, Fla. – Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney got to kick off Friday morning with short speeches to the one-day Conservative Political Action Conference. Both of them pressed the anti-Perry advantage from last night, attacking the governor over Texas’s version of DREAM, which allows the children of illegal immigrants to get in-state tuition rates.

Bachmann struck with a characteristic level of subtlety: “We will not have taxpayer subsidies for illegal immigrants!”

Romney, more adroit than Bachmann, described the tuition scheme he’d presided over in Massachusetts, and added a shiv: “By the way, you’ve got to be a legal resident of the United States to get it!” In a crowd of several hundred activists, everyone got the reference. And Romney went further, referencing Perry’s argument that people who talked down Texas’s immigration solutions were heartless.

“If you’re opposed to illegal immigration it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a heart,” he said. “It means that you have a heart and a brain. Legal immigration: Good for America! Illegal immigration: Bad for America!”

Texas’s immigration policy’s been seen as a possible advantage for Perry if he gets to the general election. McCain’s reform advocacy was supposed to help him with Hispanics, too, and he did worse with that vote than any Republican since Bob Dole. So this isn’t really a pro-Perry strategy argument that convinces many Republicans.