Perry’s attack itself may not have been that effective, but the reply he elicited from Romney was sure damaging: “I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake,” Mitt said he told his contractor. “I can’t have illegals!”
Debates are about moments that (appear to) crystallize candidates as human beings. After the hostage crisis and other blows to American prestige, people craved strength in 1980, and so when Reagan boomed, “I paid for this microphone!”, it suggested that he could be provide America the backbone it wanted at that moment. When George H.W. Bush looked at his watch in the 1992 town hall, it indicated that he just wasn’t that concerned with people’s plight – as opposed to the famed Clinton empathy to which a recession-weary nation responded. A simple gesture spoke volumes, because it comported with what Americans suspected was true: Bush was out of touch with their suffering.
In that vein, “I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake – I can’t have illegals!” Romney offered a window into his character: ambitious, practical, hands-on, and utterly lacking in principle. Let’s see if Perry can capitalize on this gift in the coming days.