Newt Gingrich’s statement on immigration at the national security debate is being called an unforced error by some in the conservative media.  Immigration was not the topic of the night, so why make it the highlight of the night?

I don’t know whether Newt’s position, that there should be some humanitarian exceptions to our deportation policy focused on those here for decades with strong family and community ties, will cost him votes.  I don’t think so.  Many of the critics didn’t support Newt to begin with.

Newt’s position, as I pointed out before, is neither amnesty (he was talking about deportation policy, not citizenship) nor out of touch with where most realistic Republican voters expect we would end up.

The concept of local boards has been mocked, but the mockery is not deserved.  While I don’t support the concept of local boards, such boards would not operate without guidelines any more than the old draft boards were free to do whatever they wanted.  This is a version of pushing some aspects of immigration enforcement down to the states using federal guidelines.   Those who have accused Newt of being shallow and not thinking things through have been shallow in their critiques.

But more important, Newt’s statement caused the Romney campaign to engage in hyperbole, accusing Newt of wanting amnesty for 10 million people.  This exposed key weaknesses in Romney’s claim to the presidency.

First, Romney has been in favor of a pathway to citizenship for illegals, which is more than Newt proposed at the debate which was limited to deportation policy.  Romney ran to the right, but it was not credible.  This reminded everyone of Romney’s “core” weakness.

Second, and equally important, Romney has no answer on deportation policy.  This resulted in the “Abbott and Costello” routine I highlighted yesterday, in which Romney’s spokesperson could not or would not say that Romney would deport everyone here illegally, even those brought here as young children.  While attacking the humanitarian standards on deportation policy proposed by Newt, Romney had no alternative.  Not a good showing.

In the end, Newt was shown to be someone willing to make hard choices even if it cost him votes and to do so with realism.  Romney was shown to be just the opposite.

It dont’ know if Newt set a trap.  But the Romney campaign found itself stuck, either way.  Newt comes across looking presidential, Romney comes across looking like a politician.