At this point it's becoming clearer that it's a two-person race. Whatever "forces" control this process are shoving Perry and Romney to the top of the pack and barring any major upsets, we will choose between the two of them.
The professional pundits and establishment Republicans are telling us the important question is which candidate can attract Independents and conservative Democrats (an oxymoron if I ever heard one). That strategy failed miserably in 2008 and we have even less reason to believe it will work in 2012.
Among other things, those of us who care about what a candidate believes and how he would actually govern the country must consider the important question of whether we hate Perry's version of the DREAM Act more than we hate Romney's version of Obamacare.
First, I have to give props (or "propes" if you say it with a Texan accent) to Gov. Perry for not backing down from his policy and his convictions on immigration. Whether you agree with him or not, you must admit he's a straight shooter who does not waffle.
Contrast this to Gov. Romney's ever evolving excuses for his MA healthcare plan. He's loved it, he's hated it. It was a good idea gone bad when the legislature got its hands on it. It's a state's rights issue. Pick a day, pick an excuse. But don't worry, he's going to repeal Obamacare. Or for sure, he's going to give states waivers.
Clearly, Perry's policy to grant in-state tuition rates to children of illegal aliens is extremely unpopular with the Tea Party and with the conservative base. Although hardly the equivalent of full-blown amnesty, many see it as the nose of the camel under the amnesty tent.
That said, it's worth remembering that our revered President Reagan signed an amnesty bill, which granted amnesty to
3 million an unknown number of illegal aliens in the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. It was far more radical than anything Perry has done or has proposed.
Both Romney's Romneycare plan and Perry's cracking the door to amnesty are state programs. Neither has proposed imposing these on the entire nation. But they do give us insights into their governing style and moral philosophies which are important indicators.
In Massachusetts, every resident of the state was forced to purchase health insurance, whether they wanted it or not. In Texas, taxpayers were forced to subsidize the college education of illegal immigrants. On my personal liberty scale, I'd feel more violated by the Romneycare. YMMV (your mileage may vary).
As a Christian and a conservative, I confess that I am personally conflicted about the immigration issue. I understand the arguments. I know we must secure the border as the first order of business. I know that we must enforce E-verify and let's have a robust guest worker program with tamper-proof ID's.
But the fact remains that we have millions of people here illegally. They're not going to just disappear once the border is secure. Something is going to have to be done with them. Republicans and conservatives just sound silly when we give the trite answer that they can just go home and try again later. We all know that is not going to happen.
I don't have a problem sending home adult men and women who have broken our laws to come to this country. But in my soul, I wrestle with how to act justly toward the children of those lawbreakers. They did not cross the border illegally. They just had the misfortune of being born to a criminal and I can't seem to justify punishing them for the sins of their parents.
Not the stock Tea Party/conservative answer, I know. But I suspect there are many others who wrestle with this issue and are also conflicted. It's not a settled matter in their hearts.
For me, and for others who have endeavored to come to terms with this, Perry's defense of in-state tuition for children born to illegal aliens doesn't seem excessively far off the conservative reservation. I don't hate the idea as much as I hate the idea of Romneycare.
And lets be honest. Politically, pragmatically, having a slightly softer position toward the children born to illegal aliens may appeal to minorities, Independents and those enigmatic "conservative" Democrats. It does allow Perry to steal an arrow from Romney's centrist quiver.
Perry isn't my candidate yet, but his position on in-state tuition for children of illegal aliens is not a deal-breaker for me.
On the other hand, Romneycare is one of several serious deal-breaker issues Romney has dragged with him into this race. I would vote for him in a race against Obama, but he's not someone I could enthusiastically support or campaign for.