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Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich took his shoot-from-the-lip political nature into the latest GOP presidential debate Tuesday and wandered into dangerous and uncharted territory on immigration and Social Security.
It was vintage Gingrich, unleashing the riverboat gambler style that served him during is contentious days in Congress.
Instead of playing it safe, Gingrich offered ways for illegal immigrants to avoid deportation and become U.S. citizens, a defiant stance to the rapid Republican right wing that wants all illegals shipped home.
“I don’t see how the party that says it’s the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families which have been here for a quarter-century. I’m prepared to take the heat for saying let’s be humane in enforcing the law,” Gingrich said in the CNN-sponsored debate in Washington.
Gingrich’s gamble could hurt him in the upcoming Iowa caucuses. His remarks brought immediate rebukes from GOP conservatives who oppose any kind of amnesty program for illegal immigrants.
“Newt did himself significant harm tonight on immigration among caucus and primary voters,” said Tim Albrecht, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad‘s deputy chief of staff.
“This is classic Gingrich,” GOP activist Eileen Jennings told Capitol Hill Blue. “He can’t keep his mouth shut.”
Gingrich also favors privatizing Social Security, citing Chile’s model.
“It has increased the economy, increased the growth of jobs, increased the amount of wealth, and it dramatically solves Social Security without a payment cut and without having to hurt anybody,” Gingrich said in the debate.
Recent polls in Chile suggest those who live there aren’t as enthralled as Gingrich.
Pushing privatizing is a political minefield. When George W. Bush proposed it right after his re-election in 2004, both Congress and the American people responded with anger and opposition.
With his unorthodox stands, Gingrich garnered most of the attention in Tuesday’s debate. Most analysts agreed that Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney dominated the debate while challengers Herman Cain and Rick Perry continued to stumble. More questions did go to challengers like Texas Congressman Ron Paul, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman or former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum but it didn’t help any of them break through.
“Romney and Gingrich dominated the debate,” longtime Republican Samuel Hastings told Capitol Hill Blue. “Everyone else came across as pretenders.”
GOP consultant Matt Mackowiak summed up Gingrich’s performance as “classic Newt.”
“Newt’s mouth got him back into the race. It very well might take him back out.”