Imagine how different the presidential race would be if Mitt Romney had not embraced hardline policies on immigration during the Republican primaries. With interviews on Univisión and Telemundo and a speech at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce this week, Romney might have had a lot more of substance to say to Latino voters had he adopted a more nuanced policy early on.
Instead, Romney found himself on the defense over his immigration stances. His response to grilling about what immigration plans he’d put in place if elected has been a muddled set of talking points that fail to answer basic and important immigration policy questions. Clearly, Romney is wary of blowback from the far right if he were to disavow his hardline stances from the primary, but also aware of the trouble he is in with Latino voters—and unable to find his way out of that box.
As National Journal columnist and pundit Ron Brownstein notes in a new column entitled “His Original Sin,” it didn’t have to be this way. During the primary, Romney sided with anti-immigrant extremists instead of embracing a nuanced immigration policy that he could have smoothly transitioned into during the general elections. Not only was Romney’s choice to tack right on immigration a bad decision he hasn’t been able to overcome, but it’s not clear that he needed to do it in the first place. For example, most Iowa Republican caucus-goers hold more sensible and pragmatic views on immigration than Romney.
Of all Romney’s primary-season decisions, the most damaging was his choice to repel the challenges from Perry and Gingrich by attacking them from the right—and using immigration as his cudgel. That process led Romney to embrace a succession of edgy, conservative positions anathema to many Hispanics, including denouncing Texas for providing in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants; praising Arizona’s immigration-enforcement law; and, above all, promising to make life so difficult for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants that they would “self-deport.” Although Romney this week tried to soften his tone, polls show Obama attracting at least the 67 percent of Latinos that he attracted in 2008, despite Hispanics’ double-digit unemployment. Weaver, like other GOP strategists, worries that Romney has placed the GOP “on the precipice” of losing Hispanics for a generation.