Mitt Romney came out with a new idea the other day, and it took his consultants a full day to disavow it. For Romney, that qualifies as a deeply-held belief.
Speaking at a fundraiser in Florida, Romney said, "We have to get Hispanics to vote for our party" and warned that Obama's 40-point lead among Hispanics "spells doom for us." Then he called for a Republican DREAM Act, a reference to Democratic legislation that offers some illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.
No sooner did the words leave his mouth than all the king's men recast anything Romney said at the gathering as "ideas, not plans" and promised that the former governor would "study and consider" the Republican DREAM Act that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is pushing.
Romney is only getting 23% of the Hispanic vote, less than the 31% Sen. John McCain got in 2008 and far short of George W. Bush's high-water mark of 40% in 2004. But Romney also needs to consolidate anti-immigrant Republicans who are in no mood for the compromise Rubio's proposing.
Rubio's proposal would represent a significant retreat from the hard-right positions Romney staked out in the primary, but there's no guarantee that Romney won't end up in no-man's land with Hispanic voters if he gets behind the bill. Rubio's bill would allow underage illegal immigrants to study, work, and serve in our military. They could even get drivers' licenses, but unlike the real DREAM Act, they could only get non-immigrant visas. To apply for citizenship, they would have to self-deport themselves and start over from their home countries.
In other words, these kids would be second-class, and they wouldn't be citizens. Basically, Rubio took the American Dream out of the DREAM Act. To be fair, the policy sounds better in the original Afrikaan, the language also known as Cape Dutch spoken by white settlers in South Africa. You probably already known at least one word in Afrikaans: apartheid.
It speaks volumes about the inherent racism of the Republican Party that they would trot out a Cuban to tell America what to do with all those Mexicans. To white folks, that seems like a distinction without a difference. To Hispanics, that's like an Eskimo telling Republicans how to handle Hawaiians.
Perhaps we should be grateful for the possible emergence of Romney's kindler, gentler side when it comes to immigration, because the sight of him getting to the right of Rick Perry during the Republican Primary was embarrassing for everyone. He called Arizona's stridently anti-immigration law "a model" and campaigned with the law's author, former Kansas Sec. of State Kris Kobach, on Martin Luther King Day, for Pete's sake.
"Mitt Romney stands apart from the others. He's the only one who's taken a strong across-the-board position on immigration," Kobach said, though the Romney campaign recently dropped Kobach from its list of official policy advisers.
In fact, back when he was trying to get to the right of Rick Perry, Romney came out against offering children of illegal immigrants "permanent residency," which is exactly what Rubio's bill would offer.
"And I have indicated I would veto the DREAM Act if provisions included in that act to say that people who are here illegally, if they go to school here long enough, get a degree here that they can become permanent residents. I think that's a mistake. I think we have to follow the law and insist those who come here illegally, ultimately return home, apply, and get in line with everyone else," said Romney.
In another debate he came out even more stridently against the education and work benefits that are in Rubio's bill, saying, "We've got to stop illegal immigration. That means turning off the magnets of amnesty, in-state tuition for illegal aliens, employers that knowingly hire people that have come here illegally."
It's not what Romney says that means anything, but why he says it. The only reason he's taken a breath since 1994 is to get elected. Now, once again, Romney is trying to stand for something to see if Hispanics and Republicans will fall for anything.