When the history of the 2012 presidential election campaign is written, last week may or may not rank as the most significant -- but it will certainly be viewed as a major inflection point in the race.
Romney's bad week began on Friday, June 15, when the Administration announced that the Department of Homeland Security would defer action to remove the "Dreamers" -- undocumented young people who came to this country before the age of 16 and were less than 30 years of age. This includes the young people who would have been covered by the Dream Act that passed the House and received a majority vote in the Senate in 2010 -- back when Democrats still controlled both bodies. Unfortunately, the Dream Act did not receive final passage in the Senate because it was blocked by a Republican filibuster.
First and foremost, the President's action was enormously significant because it gave formal status -- and work permits -- to 1.4 million young people who had previously been subject to deportation from the only country many of them had ever known.
But as a political matter, it was also a game changer.
President Obama already led Romney among Hispanic voters by ratios of two or three to one in most polls. But over the last three years, Republicans have successfully blocked all of his attempts to pass comprehensive immigration reform through Congress, and his bold action for the Dreamers sent a bolt of electricity through the Latino electorate. His action will almost certainly turbocharge efforts to boost Hispanic voter turnout that will likely be decisive in key swing states like Colorado, Nevada and Florida -- and may still put Arizona in play.
What's more, it completely undercut Senator Marco Rubio's attempt to craft a bill that would provide relief to Dreamers without giving them the pathway to citizenship promised in the Dream Act. That bill would have had no chance whatsoever of passing the Republican House this year, but it would have given Romney and the Republicans a fig leaf to hide behind in their attempt to improve their dismal standing in the Hispanic community. In fact, the President's action turned the Tea Party-backed Rubio into the incredible "shrinking senator" and took Rubio off the Vice Presidential list of most pundits.
For his part, Romney spent the week dodging questions from reporters -- and Dream students -- about whether he would leave President Obama's action in place if he were elected.
The political impact of these events was on display at last week's conference of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO). Romney was given tepid, polite applause. Obama received a thunderous ovation.
In his speech to the group, Romney pledged that he could be trusted to "keep his promises." The next day, the President pointed out in his remarks that one of those Romney "promises" was a firm pledge to "veto the Dream Act" earlier in the campaign.
The entire episode highlighted the fact that Romney is running as the most anti-immigrant major party candidate for President in modern history. His embrace of the Arizona "papers please law" as a "national model" and his connection with the architects of that law, like rabidly anti-immigrant Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, will be highlighted once again when the Supreme Court rules on the law's constitutionality early this week. And in an amazing show of ineptitude, Romney's people have scheduled him to actually be in Phoenix for a fundraiser on Monday when it is expected that the Supreme Court is likely to rule.
But last week's development on the immigration and the Dream Act did more than damage Romney with Hispanics and help mobilize them to participate in the fall election. It also turned around the political momentum in the race. In politics, like sports, momentum -- the bandwagon effect -- is a big factor. Last week it returned to the Obama camp after several weeks of bad economic news and Romney's consolidation of his base as he secured the GOP nomination.
Romney had sought to continue his previous momentum through a bus tour that carried his economic message to New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan -- all states the President had won in 2008 -- all critical to the outcome in 2012. The first day of his bus tour was eclipsed by the President's action on immigration. Day two, the big news was the campaign's decision to wave off a planned stop at a Wawa store in Quakerstown, Pa., when 150 Democrats and former Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania gathered there to greet Romney's bus.
Matters were made worse when, after diverting to a more friendly Wawa, Romney marveled at the "touch screen" sandwich machine that local Wawa customers had used for a decade -- recreating the out of touch moment first experienced by the first President Bush when he was awestruck by supermarket bar code scanners in the early 1990's. Of course, Romney had already shown his contempt for convenience stores early in the campaign when he complained that what turned out to be cookies made by a favorite Pennsylvania bakery looked like they came from a 7-11 store.
His tour continued to be dogged by a counter-tour organized by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) that preceded Romney's own. The DNC's "Romney Economics: Middle Class Under the Bus" tour drew competing press throughout the Romney route.
And things just kept getting worse for the GOP. On Monday of last week, a group of nuns launched their own press tour: "Nuns on the Bus -- the Nuns Drive for Family, Faith and Fairness." This two-week press tour -- complete with a bus wrapped with their slogan and powerful testimony from Catholic Women Religious -- focused on the fact that the Ryan-Romney-Republican budget does not square with Catholic values. The "Nuns on the Bus" tour generated press coverage of Biblical proportions everywhere it went -- including key swing states in the presidential and congressional races. It continues until July 3.
Finally, at the end of the week, the Washington Post published a major story exploring how -- when he was head of Bain Capital -- Romney was a "pioneer" outsourcing American jobs abroad. All the Romney campaign could do to respond was quibble over the term "outsourcing" and "offshoring."
In a campaign stop in Florida on Friday, President Obama argued that we don't need a "pioneer in outsourcing" in the Oval Office. Instead we need someone who will work every waking moment to create American jobs. Obama campaign senior adviser, David Axelrod, tweeted that Romney is running to be "Outsourcerer-in-chief."
There's no other way to put it. This issue is devastating for the Romney candidacy. That's because it simultaneously moves the two groups of voters that affect the outcome of any election: persuadables and mobilizables.
It is particularly important to white working class swing voters that are President Obama's weakest swing demographic. At the same time it energizes his base -- especially organized labor and progressives.
Americans understand that the outsourcing of American jobs -- especially manufacturing jobs -- is one of the key factors that has devastated the middle class. And Republican strategist Frank Luntz was right when he said, "If next year's campaign is couched as a battle over the middle class, Democrats will win."
The "pioneer of outsourcing" story will become one of the iconic symbols in the 2012 campaign. It clearly and simply summarizes the growing concerns among swing voters that Romney Economics -- and Romney's history at Bain -- are both about making millions for himself and other millionaires and throwing the middle class "under the bus."
As if that wasn't enough, the week ended with an extravagant Romney Retreat for his the biggest fundraisers and bundlers for the Romney campaign and its super PAC at a posh resort town in Utah. Trackers captured dozens of corporate jets landing at local airports ferrying the members of Romney's true base -- the CEO/millionaire set -- to the Romney soiree. The retreat brazenly featured meetings of "industry groups" like bankers, who strategized about their political aims with Romney and other Republicans leaders like Senate Banking Committee ranking Republican Spencer Bachus. It also provided attendees with a weekend of unfettered access to top Republican political strategists like former Bush adviser Karl Rove, who might once again return to government if Romney wins.
Americans United for Change Communications Director Jeremy Funk blogged:
With doubt about Mitt Romney's ability to create jobs reaching new heights this week following the revelation that companies he oversaw as CEO of Bain Capital were "pioneers" of the cold, greedy practice of shipping U.S. jobs overseas to bottom-wage countries, you might think he would think twice about rubbing elbows and clinking glasses with his former outsourcing specialist colleagues at Bain anytime soon. Yet, not 48 hours later, Bain Capital's private jet was spotted today near Romney's exclusive retreat in Utah for mega campaign donors, undoubtedly including a who's who list of outsourcing corporate interests -- a retreat unofficially billed as "Outsourcers of the World Reunite."
Romney's bad week was punctuated by a Bloomberg poll that showed Obama had lept to a double digit lead in the race. While some pundits dismissed the poll as an outlier, few could argue that Romney was making ground in his uphill battle to the White House. And most handicappers agree that, though the election will almost certainly be close, right now they'd rather be Barack Obama than Mitt Romney.
Lots can happen in the four and a half months that remain until November 6 -- and all those Romney donors will flood the airwaves with attacks ads in the weeks leading to the election. But if the Obama campaign can string together more weeks like the one that just passed, it will be Barack Obama, not Mitt Romney, that will be standing on the Capitol steps taking the oath of office next January.