Conservatives' Immigration Dilemma: Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney?

Conservatives disappointed time and time again with GOP candidates

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Imagine you're a conservative activist who plans to vote in the fast-approaching Iowa caucus.

You can't stand former Gov. Mitt Romney, and you've watched as a succession of true-believing conservatives has failed to pass the laugh test. You loved Sarah Palin in 2008, but you are tired of being teased by her. After a while, you couldn't shake the hunch that she was in it for the money. You cheered Donald Trump for saying out loud what Bushie betrayers like Karl Rove were too chicken to say.

[Read an analysis of the latest GOP presidential debate.]

You perhaps personally elevated Rep. Michele Bachmann at the Ames Straw Poll, only to be summarily swept off your feet by a seemingly ideal candidate—Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

And then Perry told you that you "have no heart."

That was really foolish of him.

Then your hopes turned to Herman Cain—but he turned out to be a lech who really didn't know much about anything.

So you gave former Speaker Newt Gingrich a second look. You've loved his spiky and learned performances in the debates, but, until recently, this was merely an entertaining sideshow. You were glad Newt was there; you might have even experienced a twinge of sadness when he finally bowed out of the race. But, practically speaking, you never truly needed Newt.

Until, that is, you did.

[See a slideshow of who's in and who's out for the GOP in 2012]

And then, Newt went and said this:

I don't see how the party that says it's the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy, which destroys families that have been here a quarter of a century ...

And I'm prepared to take the heat for saying let's be humane in forcing the law without giving them citizenship, but by finding a way to create legality so they are not separated by their families.

Granted, he didn't directly insult you like Gov. Perry. You may have even felt moved by the way Newt couched his position in the context of "family values." And your blood boiled as the camera panned to Romney watching—with that transparent simper of his that all but announces "I don't believe a word that comes out of my mouth, and neither should you"—Newt hobble himself.

But you ultimately can't support anything that smacks of "amnesty."

Now time is running out. A fellow activist sounds a warning:

Our concern is that if the conservatives stay as fragmented as they are, that Romney could win the Iowa caucuses. And if he wins the Iowa caucuses, he'll be the nominee ... So I think there's an urgency to say, 'Well, who is the person that could best challenge [Mitt Romney] then move on after Iowa?

It dawns on you that neither Mitt nor Newt is free of the taint of the individual mandate, cap-and-trade, or some form of amnesty. [Check out a roundup of cartoons about Mitt Romney.]

And these are the viable Republican alternatives to President Obama.

You sigh in disgust.