The Immigration Trap

| Fri Sep. 2, 2011 1:51 PM EDT

Ed Kilgore notes that Rick Perry will be spending his Labor Day weekend in South Carolina and might end up walking into a buzz saw:

It’s well known that Perry’s record and positions on immigration represent the one glaring area where he’s significantly out of step with conservative orthodoxy. He has, after all, consistently supported a guest-worker program and a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, both positions contemptuously dismissed as code for “amnesty” by many conservative activists. Worse yet, from their point of view, he signed and still defends a state version of the DREAM Act, which provides in-state tuition rates at state universities for illegal immigrants brought to this country as children.

....So it’s well worth noting that the co-inquisitor who will be sitting next to Jim DeMint (along with right-wing Princeton professor Robert George) at the Palmetto Freedom Forum event on Labor Day will be none other than [Tom] Tancredo’s successor as Congress’ preeminent anti-immigration agitator, Representative Steve King of Iowa. King, whose views on the subject are so extreme that he was denied the chairmanship of a House subcommittee on immigration despite being its senior member, can hardly be expected to pass up an opportunity to bash Perry’s record in the forum’s one-on-one questioning format.

....If Rick Perry does walk into a beatdown by King in Columbia, and doesn’t handle it well, the political consequences could be pretty serious....If the extremely powerful Jim DeMint is looking for an excuse to support someone else or simply withhold his imprimatur, watching Perry squirm while his buddy King taunts him with a hot poker could provide an excellent excuse. And even more obviously, King is a major powerbroker back home in Iowa, and is likely capable of stopping Perry’s recent momentum in the state.

My guess is that if Perry has been able to handle himself on this issue in Texas, he can probably handle himself in South Carolina. Besides, where is the hardcore anti-immigrant vote going to go? Mitt Romney? Hardly. Michele Bachmann? Maybe. She's the obvious choice, and she's made a show of talking up immigration issues lately. What's worse, on immigration Perry really will have to contend with the ghost of George Bush, another Texas governor who held moderate immigration views and ended up getting pilloried by his own party for it.

Still, I suspect that Perry will he able to pivot well enough to avoid a disaster. He'll never be the favorite of the anti-immigration crowd, but he'll probably be good enough. It'll be worth watching how he does, though.

Get Mother Jones by Email - Free. Like what you're reading? Get the best of MoJo three times a week.