Talk about a “too little, too late” moment. Romney campaign chief Matt Rhoades said he regrets the campaign’s hard stance on immigration, saying it was done mainly to counter the perceived ‘threat’ of primary challenger Governor Rick Perry of Texas.
Rhoades made this admission at a forum at the Harvard University Institute of Politics. The New York Times reports one Romney senior strategist, Stuart Stevens, said he had no regrets when he was asked about the campaign’s immigration stance. But Rhoades said he did regret it, and went on to explain that they thought this would be effective in warding off challenger Rick Perry. In one of the Republican presidential debates, Perry said those who wanted to deny in-state tuition to undocumented students “had no heart.” Romney took a very different position, and went as far as saying that undocumented immigrants should “self-deport,” comments which haunted him and his campaign for the rest of the presidential campaign and which were soundly rejected by most Latino voters.
In fact, in a pre-election Impremedia/Latino Decisions poll, 57 percent of Latino registered voters said Governor Romney’s comments on self-deportation and his immigration stance made them less likely to vote for him. Latino grassroots organizations said immigration was a key mobilizing issue for many of the nation’s Hispanic voters. During the campaign, some Latino and non-Latino Republicans, such as Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, expressed concern over harsh immigration stances which could alienate Latino voters and tried to soften the rhetoric.
After the election, Latino Republicans have made it clear that the party should move in a different direction. Juntos Con Romney co-chair Carlos Gutierrrez recently announced the formation of a super PAC to bolster GOP candidates who support immigration reform. Gutierrez told the AP, “If we get this right… the 21st century is ours — if we get it wrong, shame on us,” he said.
Now that immigration reform is a much-discussed topic on the national agenda, it will be interesting to see how Rhoades’ comments resonate inside and outside the Beltway.