Romney’s Double Game on Immigration

Mitt Romney at CPAC in Florida in 2011.<a target="_blank" href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/6182516709/sizes/m/in/photostream/">Flickr/Gage Skidmore</a>


Mitt Romney has run two different campaigns when it comes to immigration. In South Carolina, he railed against comprehensive immigration reform, declaring that he has “one simple rule: no amnesty.” He touted the endorsement of Kris Kobach, a Republican anti-immigrant hardliner who helped write restrictive immigration laws in Alabama and Arizona and wants to abolish birthright citizenship.

Elsewhere, however, Romney struck a different tone. He told a Republican audience in Florida that he wasn’t sure whether a legislative proposal that would allow undocumented immigrants in the United States to remain in the country constituted amnesty. “There are some who get involved in whether it is technically amnesty or not, and I’m not really trying to define what is technically amnesty, I’ll let the lawyers do that.” Romney’s against “amnesty,” he just isn’t quite sure what it is.

I’m not talking about Romney’s 2012 primary campaign. I’m talking about his 2008 campaign.

The above examples come straight from the 2008 McCain campaign’s opposition research tome, unearthed by Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski, but Romney’s basically running the same double game in South Carolina and Florida this year. Back then, he was in the midst of a delicate balancing act, trying to avoid excoriating President George W. Bush’s immigration reform efforts while still hitting McCain, a key supporter of those efforts, from the right. This year he’s trying to avoid alienating too many Latino voters, while still jabbing the relatively more moderate Newt Gingrich. As in 2008, Romney is using an endorsement from Kobach, formerly the head of the Kansas Republican Party and now Kansas Secretary of State, to prove his commitment to restrictive immigration policies. 

Bloomberg Businessweek‘s Julie Hirschfeld Davis reports:

In Florida, Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney is airing campaign commercials in Spanish telling Hispanics he’s “one of us.” In South Carolina, he is touting the endorsement of Kris Kobach, an anti-immigration activist who helped spearhead state laws that have sparked anger among Latinos.

What’s remarkable is not just that Romney is enaging in virtually the same kind of doubletalk on immigration that he did in 2008—in the same states—it’s that he thinks it’s going to work. 

The idea seems to be that Romney can campaign one way in English in South Carolina, and then sound like an immigration moderate in Spanish while campaigning in Florida. Perhaps the assumption is that the presumed Spanish-speaking audience for Romney’s Florida ads won’t have access to his harsher remarks on immigration. 

That would be a deeply silly assumption. A recent study from Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism showed that the Spanish-language media thrived even through the recession, with the Univision network growing its audience and Spanish-language newspapers losing less of their readerships than their English-language counterparts. Bottom line: Romney’s Spanish language ads aren’t going to blot out his record on immigration any more than Obama will be able to hide those one million deportations

There’s another reason why Latino voters, particularly in Florida, aren’t likely to be moved by Romney’s ads. Rival Newt Gingrich, who has struck a more moderate tone than Romney on immigration, has started running Spanish-language radio ad  accusing Romney of being a “government liberal” and “anti-immigrant candidate.” Gingrich’s ad also reminds voters in Miami of the last time Romney was running for president, when he accidentally appropriated a pro-Castro slogan (“Fatherland or Death, we will prevail”) at political rally. Awkward. 

 

OUR NEW CORRUPTION PROJECT

The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate