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Mitt Romney Campaign Manager: I Regret Going Hard Right on Immigration

by Pili Tobar on 12/04/2012 at 2:58pm

Matt Rhoades, Mitt Romney’s campaign manager, has added his voice to the ranks of other Republicans lamenting choices the Party made on immigration.  At a forum hosted by the Harvard University Institute of Politics and reported on yesterday, Rhoades admitted that the campaign’s decision to move to the hard right on immigration during the GOP primary was a political mistake.  As Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times writes:

When asked directly whether Mr. Romney regretted tacking to the right on immigration to appeal to conservative primary voters, the room fell silent…after pausing for several seconds, Mr. Rhoades said, ‘I regret that.’  He went on to explain that the campaign, in hindsight, had been too worried about a potential threat from Gov. Rick Perry of Texas.

When Perry and Gingrich came onto the scene, Romney doubled down on immigration by embracing the policy wish-list of advisors Kris Kobach and Rep. Steve King – promising to veto the DREAM Act, applauding the draconian Arizona approach to immigration, and most notably, supporting the radical notion of ‘self-deportation.’

He did this despite the fact that polls of early caucus and primary voters showed more alignment with a moderate approach to immigration than the one espoused by Romney.  “In retrospect, I believe that we could have probably just beaten Governor Perry with the Social Security hit,” Rhoades said according to the New York Times.

No one is crediting Romney’s immigration stance for his win in the primary, but numerous pundits and party operatives are admitting that his immigration stance drove away Latino voters in the general election and may have cost him the presidency.

Conventional wisdom used to hold that resolving the status of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. was the most controversial part of immigration reform.  In fact, this policy is not controverisal but common-sense: the American people are broadly supportive of tackling it.  According to the 2012 network exit polls, 65% of Americans said that undocumented immigrants “should be offered a chance to apply for legal status,” while only 28% said that they should be “deported to the country they came from.”  On this issue, voters are far more pragmatic than some have believed.

According to Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice:

What happened in the Romney campaign should serve as yet another reminder that how you propose to handle the status of undocumented immigrants matters.  Real immigration reform means putting the 11 million Americans-in-waiting on the road to full citizenship and nothing less.  There is broad support for a path to citizenship among all voters, including–but not limited–to Latinos.  If Romney had made a different choice on immigration during the primary, we may have seen a different outcome in the race.

In a candid moment, Romney’s campaign manager admitted that demagoguing on the immigration issue was a mistake.  That’s a start.  If the Republicans in Congress are similarly honest in evaluating what went wrong and how to fix it, they’ll do the right thing and work with the Democrats to help pass a path to citizenship in Congress.

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