Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann (as well as many Mitt supporters in the media) have been distorting Newt Gingrich’s position on immigration as one favoring “amnesty.”

Via The Shark Tank, here is a video where Newt explains his immigration policy.  I believe it’s a fully acceptable and conservative immigration policy:  Secure the borders first and impose strict employer penalties, and once all that is done create a deportation policy with some humanitarian exceptions based on preserving family units, but no preferential pathway to citizenship (except for those who serve in the U.S. military).

It is a formulation liberals ultimately hate because it is hard for them to demagogue (i.e., it is “humane”) without creating new Democratic voters.

I think the concept of “community boards” still needs clarification, and there would need to be a national standard.  But in no way is it an “amnesty” policy.  Romney and Bachmann have damaged their own creditility by claiming Newt wants “amnesty” for 11 million people.  (Bachmann has been particularly misleading.)

I am more convinced than ever that Newt, whether consciously or not, set a trap for Romney on immigration.  In addition to the points I made the other day (forcing Romney into a run to the right lacking credibility aand from which he had no exit), Newt damaged Romney’s claim to being the most electable.

Romney’s “deport them all with no exceptions” policy makes him less electable because it is out of sync even with the Republican electorate and is impossible tf implement.  Romney eventually will, of necessity, be forced to admit that Newt is right that there must be deportation exceptions.

None other than Bill Clinton recognized that Gingrich’s approach was politcally savvy because while it was more conservative than what George W. Bush proposed, it would have broad appeal:

“He’s articulate and he tries to think of a conservative version of an idea that will solve a legitimate problem,” Clinton said, by way of explaining the Gingrich resurgence. “For example, I watched the national security debate last night. And Newt said two things that would make an independent voter say, ‘Well, I gotta consider that.’

“He said, ‘OK, I don’t want to legitimize immigrants who came here undocumented, illegally.’ On the other hand, a lot of those people have been here for years, they worked hard, they paid taxes, they’ve got kids in the schools, they’re not criminals, we’re going to have a hard time sending them all home, there’s millions of them. So, I’d like to have a process where they could be here legally but not have a path to citizenship. That sort of splits the difference between the immigration reforms proposed by President Bush and President Obama, which would give a path to citizenship, and would be a version of what President Reagan did.”

While some are terming Clinton’s praise, along with that of Chuck Schumer, as the “kiss of death,” I think it’s more a recognition that while they will rip at Newt on other things, it’s going to be hard to attack him on immigration even though they don’t ultimately like the policy.

A blogger at HuffPo also has recognized what Newt has done, Newt Gingrich’s Immigration Gambit:  Is He Crazy Like a Fox?

Was Newt Gingrich crazy to suggest that the United States needed a more “humane” immigration policy?  Crazy like a fox, perhaps.  Gingrich’s gambit wasn’t a Rick Perry-style stumble or gaffe: it was a cleverly calculated maneuver.  Already dominating Mitt Romney among Tea Party conservatives, he decided that a highly visible move to the center on an issue that is not likely to decide the 2012 election could score him points with GOP voters who wonder if he’s as “electable” as Romney.

Many Tea party conservatives, Newt reasons, know that he’s more conservative than Romney, and won’t let the immigration issue alone sway their votes.  After all, he’s already thrown them plenty of “red meat” on Obamacare, Iran, and other bellwether issues.  At the same time, by suggesting that he’s able to reach out to Latino voters in the general election, and has an actual immigration plan to compete with Obama’s, he could well win over many moderates who are otherwise still stuck on Mitt.

I disagree that this was a “gambit,” because it was not a recent change in position.

But it was crazy like a fox, a conservative fox.