Is Mitt Romney getting a pass on the ads his Super PAC – sorry, I know that Restore Our Future has nothing at all to do with Romney in any way – is running against Newt Gingrich? The ad that went up on December 8 makes a direct claim about Gingrich and immigration: “He supports amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants.” The citation is a December 1 New York Times article; a second citation goes to our old friend PolitiFact.
The newest ROF ad makes the exact same claim, same citations: “Newt Gingrich supports amnesty for millions of illegals.” It goes after Perry, too. The whole point of the ad is that Romney’s rivals are “too liberal on immigration.”
A problem: This is misleading as all hell. The NYT article cited is a fairly short squib about a Pew Hispanic Center study on how long immigrants have lived in America. “About 35 percent of the estimated 10 million illegal immigrants in the United States who are adults have been here for 15 years or more,” wrote Julia Preston. Alas, “the Pew figures do not correspond exactly to what Mr. Gingrich suggested he would support.” Gingrich’s position, which he seemed to be making up on the spot, was that “If you’ve been here for 25 years, and you got three kids and two grandkids, you’ve been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don’t think we are going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out.”
But Gingrich didn’t propose an “amnesty” for these nice people. “Amnesty” means something. The Simpson-Mazzoli amnesty of 1986, for example – which Gingrich voted for – allowed anyone who came to America before January 1, 1982 to gain lawful, permanent residence. All they had to do was prove that they’d gotten here before the deadline, and that they lived here full time. Gingrich’s proposal – admittedly sort of fanciful-sounding – was to allow only one kind of immigrant to stay here legally, pending the decisions of local juries, modeled on the selective service system. According to Gingrich, they would judge whether or not the people deserved to stay. That’s conditional, not pure amnesty.
There’s a little deja vu here, because in 2007, Romney closed out the Iowa caucuses with a similar campaign. Iowans who’d fallen in love with Mike Huckabee were told of his dangerously pro-immigrant views. It didn’t work. This seems to be working better. The story about Romney now is more “Gingrich reels from ad assault,” less “this ad is untrue.”