Romney Comes Full Circle On Immigration?

Mitt Romney was once supportive of Kennedy-McCain style comprehensive immigration reform, but that was way back in 2005. By 2007, when he was running to the right of John McCain in the Republican Presidential primaries, Romney had made his opposition to reform a centerpiece of his campaign, blasting McCain over it in debates, and running harsh ads on the issue. In fact, exit polls showed that, in New Hampshire and elsewhere, by far Romney's strongest support came from conservative voters who cited illegal immigration as their biggest concern.

As I have written before, Romney is trying in many ways to maneuver back to the center for his presumed 2012 campaign, particularly on domestic and social issues. But he's in a tough position: due to his well-earned reputation for shifting positions (and facts) for political purposes, he can't afford to actual renounce stances he took during the '08 cycle.

One way he's trying to handle that is by de-emphasizing those domestic and social issues, and entering the public conversation about fiscal and foreign-policy issues. For example, he has recently decided to step forward as the leading voice of opposition to the New START treaty -- a stance the Phoenix blasts him for in its latest editorial (second item).

In the same vein, Romney has been conspicuously silent on the renewed attempts in Washington to pass immigration reform this year.

But, deep in this new article in Politico comes this nugget:

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a front-runner for the nomination, has signaled quietly to [South Carolina Senator Lindsey] Graham that Republicans must address immigration before the campaign heats up, according to several sources familiar with the conversation.

Well, welcome back to the reform team, Mitt!

The Politico article chalks up Romney's move to a broader sense among Republicans that immigrant-bashing during the GOP nomination campaign "could risk alienating the burgeoning Hispanic vote in the crucial swing states of New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and Florida." (Ya think?)

That's probably part of Romney's motivation for this behind-the-scenes push. But I suspect he's also got a more selfish reason: his preference to keep the focus of the GOP '12 campaign on those fiscal and foreign-policy issues.

In any event, it seems highly unlikely that Republicans in Congress will acceded to Romney's wishes. One major impediment, as the Politico article makes clear, is that McCain himself is no longer leading that Republican Senate reform effort.

That's in part because of a primary challenge he's facing from the right, but also -- as Politico reports -- because he's just pissed off at Hispanics for voting against him in 2008.

Politico doesn't mention one of the biggest reasons they did so (in addition to general revulsion toward the GOP): an aggressive effort by McCain's immigration-reform co-sponsor, Ted Kennedy, to sell Barack Obama to the Hispanic community.

So, in a sense, this obstacle in Romney's path to the Presidency was laid by Kennedy -- who Romney tried to unseat in his first foray into politics, back in 1994. Talk about full circle.


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