Posted by: Joshua Green on September 26, 2011
How dire is Rick Perry’s problem with the conservative base after his support for tuition breaks for illegal immigrants dominated the last two debates? Dire enough, certainly, that it has cost him supporters. He was expected to win the Florida GOP straw poll on Saturday but finished a distant second to Herman Cain. His fellow-candidates will ensure that the issue doesn’t go away anytime soon.
If Perry decides that his situation is so dire that he must act, he has one dramatic option available that would definitely shake things up: He could call a special session of the Texas legislature to pass a bill he supported in the last special session banning “sanctuary cities” — a bill that never reached his desk. That measure, and others protecting property rights, requiring photo ID to vote, requiring sonograms for women seeking abortions, and banning airport pat downs, were widely interpreted as an effort to strengthen Perry’s appeal to conservatives in advance of a presidential run (e.g., this July headline in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram: “Conservative GOP Primary Voters Likely to Like Perry’s Positions”)
In fact, even before last Thursday’s debate travesty, anti-immigration activists in Texas were angrily pushing Perry to call a special session to address sanctuary cities. “Gov. Perry needs to clarify where he stands on illegal immigration, and he needs to come back to Texas and finish the people’s unfinished business,” JoAnn Fleming, the head of the legislature’s Tea Party caucus advisory committee, told the Austin-American Statesman last week.
So far, no sign has emerged from the Perry camp that he is considering any such action. “These people calling on him to have a special session on sanctuary cities — that will happen when the sun explodes,” one Perry associate from the business community told me. And indeed, there are plenty of reasons why it would be undesirable. For one thing, it would look desperate. It wouldn’t “fix” his support for tuition breaks, which he is disinclined to abandon. And it would be an utter circus that would seize national attention.
On the other hand, if Perry comes to believe that his presidential hopes are circling the drain, he could decide that a dramatic act against illegal immigrants, conducted in the full glare of the presidential spotlight, is what’s necessary to “change the narrative” and rescue his campaign. One thing supporters and opponents and agree on is that Rick Perry will do whatever it takes to win.