Jim Geraghty has a nice compilation of the back and forth immigration debate between Romney and Rudy. The biggest question is whether it will allow Romney to McCain-ize Rudy, or provide Rudy with the opportunity to Kerry-ize Romney. During the immigration debate earlier this year, it didn’t help McCain politically that he was sticking with his principles, and it didn’t hurt Romney that he had had more positions on immigration than Liberace had wardrobe changes. In the end, all that mattered was that McCain was arguing for regularizing illegal immigrants and Romney was shouting “Amnesty!” from the rooftops. Romney got a boost, and it may have dealt the fatal blow to McCain’s campaign. So what now?
In my view, Giuliani offers a very reasonable defense of his decision to uphold the policy of not reporting illegal immigrants to the INS for accessing basic city services. Given that he inherited a city with 400,000 illegal immigrants, and that the federal government could only deport a few thousand a year, it makes sense that you’d want them to be able to report crimes or register their kids for school. To do otherwise seems to me like sheer lunacy. I don’t see how on earth you expect to reduce crime based on compiling statistical data on where and when it takes place if the equivalent of about 5 percent of the population cannot report crimes. I don’t see why you’d want tens of thousands of kids roaming the streets. I’ll concede that providing them medical care is much less defensible from a conservative perspective. But even so, if you go back during the 1990s, you’ll find statement after statement in which Giuliani talks about the need for the federal government to do a better job combating illegal immigration. In a 1995 interview I linked to a few months ago, then-Mayor Giuliani said, “(The federal government) has to increase its ability to do border patrol. It has to increase the emphasis through foreign policy. It has to increase its emphasis on deportation and put more resources into that.”
With that said, I’m not politically tone deaf, and I am aware that to passionate immigration hawks, when somebody says “New York City,” they hear “Amnesty City” and no argument made in Giuliani’s defense is likely to alter that view. During the recent immigration debate, with all the attention focused on McCain, Giuliani didn’t get much criticism for his policies as mayor. Given that Romney’s attacks on McCain were so successful, and that he obviously has no qualms about taking positions that are contrary to his own record, it may prove smart politically to force Giuliani to defend a policy that’s unpopular among conservatives.
On the other hand, I was recently looking back at Giuliani’s 2004 speech to the Republican National Convention, and remembered how effective he was in communicating the Kerry flip-flopper narrative. “There are many qualities that make a great leader,” Giuliani said at the time, “but having strong beliefs, being able to stick with them through popular and unpopular times, is the most important characteristic of a great leader…. Yes, people in public office at times do change their minds, I’ve done that, or they realize they are wrong or circumstances change. But John Kerry has made it the rule to change his position, rather than the exception.”
So, I reiterate, will Romney McCain-ize Rudy, or will Rudy Kerry-ize Romney? The 2008 Republican nomination battle may hinge on that very question.