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David Leopold Headshot

Mitt Romney's Kris Kobach Problem

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"Tell me what company you keep and I'll tell you what you are" (Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra - author of Don Quixote).

Mitt Romney's company certainly tells us who he is.

This week both he and President Obama went before Hispanic voters in a forum sponsored by Univision. Not surprisingly, the topic of immigration came up. The President answered questions about his failure to enact immigration reform during his first term and Romney was asked whether he would cancel the deferral of deportation for DREAM Act eligible youth. The President candidly pointed to immigration as the biggest failure of his first term, a tacit admission of his inability to fulfill a campaign promise he made in 2008 to Hispanic voters. Romney, on the other hand, dodged, ducked and evaded direct answers, particularly about what he'll do about the Deferred Action process put in place earlier this year which grants a temporary deportation reprieve to DREAM Act eligible youth. Nor did he offer specifics about how he'd go about fixing the broken immigration system which threatens American families, stifles American business, and hurts American global economic competitiveness.

Romney also failed to explain why, during the early Republican primaries, he sought political refuge in the dark corner of the anti-immigrant fringe by embracing the likes of Kris Kobach, a radical anti-immigrant lawyer and Kansas Secretary of State. Kobach became an "informal advisor" to the Romney campaign and his influence has been obvious. Romney endorsed "self-deportation," a draconian policy proposal (and a Kobach idea) that would effectively target immigrant families, particularly Latino families, by making their lives so unbearable that they flee the U.S. Yet when it came to building a safe, orderly and fair immigration system designed to keep America's borders secure, keep American families safe and together, and meet the needs of American business Romney's message was -- and remains -- woefully devoid of substance.

Richard Nixon famously taught Republicans to play to the far right in the primaries and steer back to the center in the general election. And when it comes to immigration, that's exactly what Romney's been doing since the GOP convention, perhaps heeding the words of Nixon or, more likely, because he's trailing President Obama by double digits among likely Latino voters. Of course, the problem for Romney is that in the digital age, we have all of his debate performances and policy positions from the primary available to remind us what he said before. So to avoid being labeled as a flip-flopper, instead of changing his policies to move toward the center he's just trying to change his message. For example, in a recent speech to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the GOP candidate predictably attempted to strike a more moderate tone on immigration. "I will work with Republicans and Democrats to permanently fix our immigration system" Romney said. "I believe we can all agree that what we need are fair and enforceable immigration laws that will stem the flow of illegal immigration, while strengthening legal immigration."

Yet it's difficult to take Romney at his word given his connection to Kobach, who runs around the country drafting mean-spirited anti-immigrant laws. During the Republican convention Romney allowed Kobach to sully the platform with language endorsing "self-deportation" and opposing any pathway to lawful compliance for undocumented immigrants. Running a presidential campaign that is offensive to Latino voters is certainly Romney's prerogative; after all, he's the Republican nominee. But voters are entitled to answers about his alliance with Kris Kobach.

Kobach's extremism is hardly limited to immigration. The Kansas City Star reported recently about a half-cocked attempt by a "birther" to challenge President Obama's U.S. citizenship and knock him off the state ballot. Yet rather than do what he could to maintain the integrity of the Kansas elections process -- as his is solemn duty as Secretary of State -- Kobach went out of his way to give credibility to the ridiculous complaint, going so far to suggest that an evidentiary hearing before the Kansas State Objections Board was in order. Not surprisingly, the complaint was withdrawn.

Kobach has shown himself to be nothing more than an ambitious politician with a dangerous and radical vision of America. Yet as voters consider who will lead the country for the next four years, they are entitled to know why Romney continues to associate with him and his extremist nativist agenda.

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