I’ve seen a few people wonder how flip-floppy Mitt Romney could possibly benefit from Rick Perry being heterodox on the distinctly second-tier issue of in-state tuition fees for undocumented children at Texas public universities. What I think they’re missing is exactly what Perry said, namely that people who disagree with him about this are heartless.
As it happens, I agree that the conservative view on this is kind of heartless. Still, it was a crazy thing for him to say. To win an election of any kind, you need the votes of people who disagree with you about some stuff. Sometimes it’s going to be the case that most voters disagree with you on something in particular. When that happens, what you want to do is suggest that your disagreement with the majority is about something boring and technical and that on fundamental issues of values you’re all on the same page. What Perry did was the exact reverse of that. He took an issue that’s simply not that important in the scheme of things and elevated it to a deep moral issue about compassion. I think Perry thought he was saying that Mitt Romney is heartless, but what he actually said is that most American conservatives are heartless and their unwillingness to offer subsidized tuition to undocumented children is evidence of their heartlessness.