March 17. 2013 1:03AM

Back in NH, Forbes talks immigration, Romney and 2016

Senior Political Reporter

3/15/13--Businessman Steve Forbes sat down with the New Hampshire Union Leader editorial board including Publisher Joseph W. McQuaid in Manchester on Friday. DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER 

MANCHESTER - With immigration viewed as the next big thing to hit Capitol Hill in the coming weeks and months, publisher and former two-time Republican candidate Steve Forbes says it doesn't have to be a losing issue for his party.

Donald Trump last week called immigration reform "a suicide mission" for the GOP, but Forbes, in New Hampshire on Friday to speak to the Concord and Merrimack County Republican committees, disagreed, saying in a wide-ranging interview that thoughtful reform may not immediately gain votes for Republicans, but it "will stop losing votes" for the GOP.

"Stop the bleeding first," he said, "and then you can start appealing to voters."

Forbes, who was last in the state in May 2012 to campaign for state GOP candidates, said he was "shocked" by the results of the last election.

"For all the mistakes that Mitt Romney made, I still thought people wouldn't want another four years of this pessimism and fighting," he said.

Forbes faults Romney and his campaign for allowing themselves to be defined by President Barack Obama and the Democrats.

Yet, he is optimistic about the state of the economy and the GOP, predicting that among those who will at least consider running for President in 2016 will be Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush, who Forbes called "a given," and Paul Ryan, but definitely not himself.

On immigration, Forbes said the Republicans are right to insist on a "guest worker" program in which foreign workers are granted temporary entrance to the United States to do mostly difficult low-paying tasks.

"You can't pretend you don't need agricultural workers or hotel workers as the economy gets back on its feet," he said. "If you need them, have a program so you know who's here."

He said the GOP should also insist on reform of the H1-B visa, which also allows temporary admission to the country for certain occupations, "to show we're in tune with the times."

These should be available for high-tech jobs, and the number of H1-Bs should be dictated by the market "instead of putting artificial caps on them.

"This is why companies put facilities overseas; they can't bring capable people here," said Forbes. "Part of that is if you get your advance degree here, you should get a green card with your diploma. Why are we educating them and then sending them home?"

Forbes said Democrats were successful in the last campaign because "they defined all the issues. On immigration, it was, 'the GOP hates you.' We were waging 'a war against women,' and, because the Romney campaign never responded effectively, it stuck.

"Not to re-hash the past," he said, "but the idea that for three months, you could allow $300 million in trash ads run against you and not respond and not do anything," said Forbes. "At the convention, you put your five-point program at the end of your acceptance speech, looking like an after-thought. What were they thinking?"

Forbes said Romney "came off as sort of defensive" about his own success, giving an impression "that he wasn't quite savory.

"Roger Ailes has said that if you look like you're defensive about it, words don't matter," he said. "If you look like you're proud, then people say, 'Maybe there is something to that.' But he never did it."

Despite the big Democratic win, Forbes said "the country is adrift" and looking for leadership.

That is why, he said, there was positive grassroots response to Sen. Rand Paul's filibuster of the John Brennan nomination to head the CIA over the Obama administration's policy on the drones strikes within U.S. borders.

"He actually went against the grain and did something _ that's what they're yearning for," Forbes said.

On Medicare and Social Security, Forbes said the GOP should more effectively frame calls for reform as matters of personal choice.

Forbes predicted a 2014 "up-rising" similar to 2010. Within the GOP, there will be hard-fought primaries, and, "the message will be that no matter how glorified your name is, you will be challenged. I don't care if you call them coffee parties or tea parties or vodka parties, the base is ready to be roused."

Forbes, a long-time advocate of the flat tax, said he views Ryan's plan for two tax rates, 10 and 25 percent, favorably, but only as "a way-station to one rate."

"The bench of the party is good," said Forbes, citing Christie's "two-fisted" approach and soaring popularity in mostly Democratic New Jersey, Ryan's "intellectual firepower" and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker successes.

And when the GOP presidential field firms up, Forbes said, New Hampshire and Iowa will continue to play vital roles in the nominating process.

Despite the ever-increasing glut of broadcast advertising and social media campaigning, Forbes sees a continued value in retail campaigning.

"It's educational for candidates," said. "This is an under-appreciated side of American politics."

Forbes said that "in normal times," Iowans force candidates to articulate their stands on social issues, while Granite States force debate on economic issues.

"As a candidate, you get right up front a vivid lesson in American national politics in a retail way, and it's a good thing to get early on.

"It's a test of your skills," he said. "You couldn't have two better states."