Newt Gingrich’s Immigration Plan Gets a Whole Lot Less ‘Humane’

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesPhoto: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images/2011 AFP

When Newt Gingrich first debuted his outlandish "don't-throw-11-million-people-out-of-the-country" plan in the Republican foreign policy debate, he said he was ready for a backlash. After all, in 2004, he signed a letter in support of full-blown amnesty. "I'm prepared to take the heat for saying let's be humane," the former speaker shrugged.  And in the week since, heat he has taken.

Herman Cain took a shot — albeit a confused one. Michele Bachmann followed up with a series of disses on Fox & Friends, and released a statement slamming Newt's plan as "more evidence indicating that Newt Gingrich is the most liberal GOP candidate." David Frum said Gingrich's plan would crush American wages. And leading right-wingers in key primary states lined up to criticize him. When your only supporters are the left-wing media and Donald Trump calling you "compassionate," you know you have a primary problem. 

So it's no surprise that Gingrich course-corrected his immigration proposal on Tuesday in a South Carolina town hall, dialing down the compassion that is anathema to Republican primary voters. 

First off, Gingrich said he actually doesn't want to give the millions of long-term undocumented immigrants real amnesty. They can continue to work, buttress the American economy, and receive limited taxpayer benefits — but only as guest workers. There would be no path to citizenship. But there would be a massive fence, which will be erected along the border to Mexico by January 1, 2014, built at rapid speed by ignoring environmental impact studies or existing regulation.

The touchy-feely Gingrich seemed a distant memory as the candidate proposed making English the national language and instituting a fast track to deportation.  Then there was this quote: "We [should] establish an understanding of American history as it relates to citizenship and we apply to it the children living here,” Gingrich said. A spokesman insisted that line was not a reference to repealing the 14th Amendment but rather part of Newt's famously well-compensated passion for American history. Finally, he proposed cracking down on towns and districts that do not rigorously enforce existing deportation laws, and endorsed South Carolina's controversial law that would let police interrogate all suspects on their citizenship status. The town-hall audience ate it all up.

If anything, this evening should help Gingrich shed his pesky "humane" reputation. That's a campaign liability no GOP front-runner wants to be caught with – just ask Rick Perry.

This post has been edited after its initial publication.