After his terrible performance with Latino voters in 2012, Mitt Romney is an expert on how Republicans can mishandle the immigration issue, alienate Latino voters, and destroy the party’s general election chances in the process. As a result, new comments from Romney criticizing the tone and tenor of the Republican primary season’s focus on immigration should be taken seriously.
According to the Washington Post, during a speech at Georgetown University yesterday, Romney expressed concern that Donald Trump:
“[B]rought attention to [immigration] in a way that was not productive and not appropriate in saying the things he did about Mexican American immigrants,” presumably referring to Trump’s comments describing Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists.
Romney also expressed concern that the broader discussion of immigration and immigrants on the Republican campaign trail may lead “some minority populations” to say:
“’Wow, I guess they don’t like me very much.’”
Romney knows of what he speaks. Latino voters ended up supporting President Obama by a whopping 75%-23% margin over Romney in the 2012 general election, according to Latino Decisions Election Eve polling (71%-27% in media-sponsored exit polls). During the last Republican primary season, Romney called for the “self-deportation” of 11 million undocumented immigrants, pledged to veto the DREAM Act, and endorsed the Arizona crackdown on immigrants as a model for the nation.
He’s not alone. Romney’s former campaign manager and the infamous RNC post-election autopsy report each highlighted how Romney’s immigration positions adopted during the primary were a key factor in driving away Latino voters. In analysis from the home stretch of the 2012 presidential campaign entitled, “His Original Sin,” Ron Brownstein of National Journal noted that Romney’s general election chances were all but destroyed by his run to the hardline right during the primary season, calling Romney’s “most damaging” decision his choice “to repel the challenges from Perry and Gingrich by attacking them from the right—and using immigration as his cudgel.”
The 2016 election cycle could well make the 2012 disaster look quaint. Trump’s racist rhetoric and radical proposals are inflaming the nativist wing of the GOP and encouraging most of the other contenders to shift right. Given the increase in the number and share of Latino voters expected to vote in the 2016 general electorate, Latino Decisions estimates that the Republican nominee will need to win between 42-47% of Latinos to win the 2016 presidential popular vote. Currently, per new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo polling, only 6% of Latinos view the Republican Party very positively.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “If anyone has first-hand knowledge about the dangers of anti-immigrant politics in a presidential race, it’s Mitt Romney. Nevertheless, Republicans on the campaign trail and in Congress seem intent on repeating and outdoing the 2012 Romney lurch to the right on immigration. Good luck with that.”