Over the weekend, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney finally acknowledged the fact that he has a “Latino problem” due to his anti-immigrant posturing in the Republican primary. While Romney didn’t intend to say so publicly, his remarks at a closed door fundraiser in Florida were caught on microphone. They gave a clear window into his “Etch-A-Sketch” strategy around immigration. But given his associations, endorsements, and policy positions during the Republican primary, Romney will find it difficult if not impossible to hit the reset button with Latino voters. He only has to look to his friend Meg Whitman in 2010 for a recent example of how anti-immigrant primary positions hurt candidates in the general election.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
When it comes to Latino voters and posturing on immigration, Romney needs a time machine, not an Etch-A-Sketch. The primary campaign and his continued association with leading lights of the anti-immigrant movement have indelibly branded him as anti-immigrant and anti-Latino. As a result, it’s hard to see how he begins to climb anywhere close to the 40% of Latino voters he will likely need to win key swing states crucial to victory in November.
During the primary campaign, Romney pledged to veto the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants who attend college; promoted the ugly notion of “self-deportation,” a radical right strategy that aims to purge America of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in our country; and praised Arizona’s anti-immigration laws as a “model for the nation.” Romney also trumpeted the endorsements of an array of anti-immigrant standard-bearers, from Kris Kobach to Lamar Smith to Jan Brewer to Pete Wilson.
However, Romney clearly believes that Latino voters either weren’t paying attention or will believe him when he makes his “conversion” to a more moderate stance on immigration. As NBC News reported on this weekend’s Florida fundraiser, “Predicting that immigration would become a much larger issue in the fall campaign, Romney told his audience, ‘We have to get Hispanic voters to vote for our party,’ warning that recent polling showing Hispanics breaking in huge percentages for President Obama ‘spells doom for us.’ Romney said the GOP must offer its own policies to woo Hispanics, including a ‘Republican DREAM Act,’ referring to the legislative proposal favored by Democrats that would offer illegal immigrants a limited path to citizenship, to give Hispanic voters a real choice between parties.”
Additionally, conservative columnist Fred Barnes recently noted in the Wall Street Journal:
According to a Romney adviser, his private view of immigration isn’t as anti-immigrant as he often sounded” during the Republican primary.
Whatever his private views may be towards immigration, after months of trashing the DREAM Act, praising Arizona, and calling on undocumented workers to self-deport, Latino voters know his public views. And unless he can go back in time and erase those views, no amount of Etch-A-Sketch will do the trick.