Here is the problem with the Republican party this year in 2012: they can talk all about how the economy is the #1 issue for US Latino voters and that immigration doesn't matter, the fact remains—its extreme shift in such a short time on the immigration issue is a deal breaker for many Hispanic voters. The rhetoric has been politically damaging, whether the GOP wants to believe it or not. There is a reason why Mitt Romney is stuck below 15% in getting the US Latino vote. As a CNN opinion piece written by a Republican strategist said today: "Unless Romney gets close to 40% of the Latino vote, he can kiss the White House goodbye."
Ana Navarro, the author of the CNN piece, does make her main point when she states:
Polls also show that immigration is not the most important issue for Latinos. Like other Americans, we are most concerned about the economy. Still, immigration does set a tone. If Latinos perceive a candidate as anti-immigrant, it can turn them off, period. So, what's Romney to do? He can't erase the things he's said on immigration. Despite his campaign's efforts, they can't make supporters (or an adviser) like Kris Kobach disappear, and he is as radioactive as Kryptonite in the Latino community.
However, all's not lost. From now until Election Day, when Romney gets asked an immigration question, he needs to start and finish by reminding Latinos that Obama promised, without caveats, to get immigration reform passed in his first year in office. For many Latinos, a person's word is sacred. Romney should unequivocally say that Obama broke his word and dramatically increased deportation rates, causing family separation. He should sound angry and indignant about it. Romney needs to go from playing defense to playing offense on immigration. Hispanics are disillusioned with Obama. He too is vulnerable on the issue but only if Romney exploits that weakness.
And that is the problem. Romney can't come busting in and just start saying that President Obama deported more undocumented in his term than President Bush did in eight years, tell everyone that the President failed Latinos when it came to immigration, and then not discuss his own failings on this issue.
Romney HAD the opportunity last year during the primary to provide US Latino voters a real alternative to President Obama's broken promises to a voting bloc that was expecting a comprehensive immigration reform law in the President's first term. Instead, in an effort to combat Rick Perry's position that undocumented students could earn state tuition in Texas and Newt Gingrich's "I won't deport someone's grandmother" stance, Romney took the nativist route. He has aligned himself with the Father of Arizona's SB 1070 (Kris Kobach) and said that he would not support the DREAM Act, which is still overwhelmingly supported by US Latino voters.
Wednesday night, Rachel Maddow provided a good summary of the talking points and the issues behind it.
The immigration debate is clear: in one corner, you have hard-liners who would fence the entire country and deport everyone RIGHT NOW if given the opportunity. In another corner, you have every other rational American who is willing to come up with a comprehensive immigration law that protects the border and is also realistic about the estimated 14 million undocumented who are in this country right now. As the latest statistics show that the net migration between from Mexico to the United States is zero or even less than zero (you knew we had to make that Elvis Costello reference), why did Romney take such an extreme position on immigration? Why risk getting even less popular with US Latino voters than John McCain?
And what can Romney do now? Even if he goes after the President for his broken promises like Navarro suggests, why will Romney's hard-line position and stances be the better option? In the end, when it comes to immigration, you might be choosing from two imperfect positions, but the President will win on this issue, because Romney lost it during the primary season. Will he begin to scream "Somos el 14 por ciento/We are the 14 percent" in swing states with large Latino populations?
Romney and his surrogates can continue to ignore the immigration issue and deflect the issue, they can talk about the economy all they want, but the fact remains: his immigration position is a deal-breaker, and what does he does he do tactically to gain about 30 percentage points in the next six months? If Romney wants to win the White House and if he truly believes that winning 40% of the US Latino vote will get him that victory, he must act boldly. And he must act now.
Because, as this video from Cuéntame shows, Romney made the wrong draft pick when it came to immigration policy, and there is no way he can Etch-a-Sketch his way out it by just saying that what he said consistently during the primary season was taken out of context.
Navarro is right on one thing: a person's word IS sacred. And that doesn't apply just too US Latinos. It applies to human beings in general.