It happened in Vegas: When Mitt puts his mitts on Perry


While watching this week’s Western Republican Debate in Las Vegas via CNN, I kept looking for Asian American faces, if not content.

After all, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the fastest growing minority group in Nevada, rising 116 percent since the 2000 Census to more than 242,000 people–nine percent of the state’s population. That’s nearly double the percentage of Asian Americans in the U.S. (5.6%). Nevada is more Asian than the nation.

And yet, just like on entertainment TV shows, we’re still considered “extras,” like the doctors walking down the hallway in a hospital drama, or the lab tech on a cop show. And I’m not counting the repeated shots during the debate of audience member and Vegas icon Wayne Newton, who, after all his face lifts, only looks Asian American.

(By the way, you’ll recall it was Newton who sang “Red Roses for a Blue Lady,” which sounds like but isn’t a love song to Nancy Pelosi.)

If Asian Americans were barely represented physically at the debate, at least we have our old stand-by for content: rely on Latinos or blacks to be our proxy.

In this case it was Latinos, specifically one Robert Zavala of Las Vegas, who apparently pulled his punches. Instead of asking about that horrid fence idea, he asked a more general question about the message the GOP had for the nation’s 50 million Latinos, “not all of whom are illegal.”

Of course, he meant, “here illegally.” In debates, grammar has to count. Sadly, the slangy and offensive use of the word “illegal” as a noun (“hire illegals”) rather than as an adverb/adjective (“illegal immigration”) was in full display from all candidates in the debates.

Strangely enough, it was Newt Gingrich who answered Zavala’s teed-up question in a somewhat positive way. Gingrich, who can hardly be called a unifier on race based on his career history, actually enlarged the scope of the question and acknowledged the presence of “others,” mentioning specifically Korean Americans and Vietnamese Americans. But then he went on about how all immigrants want what everyone else wants (jobs, health care, education). This needs to be spelled out?

Did the rest think all we wanted was all-you-can-eat kimchee and a decent bowl of pho?

Immigration was actually opened up much earlier in the debate when a desperate Rick Perry brought it up during questions about health care and Romney.

Perry’s sneaky segue from “access to health care” to “access to the border” was a tactical one to dredge up an old charge that Romney used a lawn service that hired “illegals.”

As Perry put it, that made Romney’s self-portrayal as strong on immigration “on its face the heighth of hypocrisy.”

He did say “heighth.”

Romney laughed at first, then said, “I never hired an illegal in my life.”

Only a half-truth, indirectly he did. And points off for using “illegal” as a noun.

But Romney gained no sympathy when he paternalistically put his hand on Perry’s shoulder.

Touching?! In a debate?

It was creepy, the political version of sexual harassment.

Aaron Burr would have asked for a duel right then and there.

I know as a reporter when I’ve gotten under someone’s skin (and it’s happened a few times), I’ve been touched on the shoulder by the interview subject who used it to intimidate and get me to back down.

Romney’s gesture sure wasn’t a “c’mon, pal” gesture.

After a week in which NFL fans have been discussing San Francisco 49er coach Jim Harbaugh’s handshake that slighted Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz, maybe I’m just sensitive to inappropriate touching. But Mitt’s mitts have no place on Perry’s shoulder. This isn’t a UFC cage fight.

Romney did retreat as he and Perry continued to verbally jawbone like they were on the old CNN “Crossfire” show.

But Perry got to the thin-skinned Romney, and Romney lost his cool. Suddenly everything Romney said after that point was overshadowed.

Even when he tried to make a point about legal immigration, Romney’s attempt to unify the bickering candidates seemed hollow.

It’s sad because in order to distinguish among multiple candidates, you need the kind of fireworks this debate had to help split the atoms. It helps get at the truth about these people as human beings.

I wish we could tell from straight civil talk about policy alone. But that’s not what resonates when voters try to figure out whom they really like.

The other person worth mentioning is Herman Cain, who tried to backtrack from statements he made about wanting an electrified fence at the Mexican border. This time he didn’t deny it. He still wants a fence. Maybe that appeals to the base, but a fence is a non-starter for me. Beside a fence, he wanted technology (does that mean non-electric?) and “boots on the ground.” So he goes from merely electrifying a fence to wanting to wage a border war.

And to top it off, he wants the feds to let the states deal with it all. Oh, you mean like Arizona?

Herman Cain? Not my proxy.

The winner after yet another GOP debate: the best moderate Republican on the political landscape, Barack Obama.

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
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