Slick Willard

    Once again, Mitt Romney is laboring to distance himself from himself.Actually, it’s hard to tell whether the nativist anti-immigrant self that he exhibited during the primaries was an authentic self, or merely a marketed self that existed for the sole purpose of titillating the Republican base. It appears to have been the latter. Back then, he needed to serve up red meat to the rabid right; hence his vocal embrace of “self-deportation” (making things so miserable for undocumented immigrants that they’ll leave), his insistence that path-to-citizenship reforms are nothing more than “amnesty,” and, most famously, his February assertion that hard-line Arizona, the show-me-your-papers state, should be a “model” for the nation.But that marketed self won’t work in a general-election market where Hispanics are potentially pivotal voters in a growing number of swing states – and it just so happens that Hispanics dislike him with an intensity virtually unmatched in modern polling. Romney is well aware of those stats; as he recently told an audience of fat-cat donors, “We have to get Hispanic voters to vote for our party,” because the prevailing sentiment in that community “spells doom for us.”So it’s goodbye to the rabid right-wing self; he has spent the past week marketing a more centrist self. A few months ago, the Romney camp ballyhooed its ties to Kris Kobach, an architect of the draconian Arizona law (Romney: “With Kris on the team, I look forward to working with him”), but now Team Mitt says that Kobach is merely an “informal adviser.” And whereas, a few months ago, path-to-citizenship was derided as “amnesty,” Romney is now said to be “studying” a compromise drafted by Marco Rubio. Heck, he even stumped in Pennsylvania with Marco Rubio, thus demonstrating that he’s hip to the concept of diversity. But Romney’s marketing campaign for the new self has been a tad bumpy. It’s not so easy to erase via Etch a Sketch everything that the old self said.For instance, the new self insists that he does not believe, nor has he ever believed, that the controversial Arizona law (SB 1070, which empowers local cops to demand ID paperwork from any detainees whom they suspect might be illegal) should be a model for the nation. A Romney spokesman, Bay Buchanan, reiterated that line last night on CNN, in the wake of yesterday’s Supreme Court showdown on the law: “He never said SB 1070 should be a national model.”Let’s go back to the Feb. 22 Republican debate. Moderator John King asked Romney, “What about arresting? Should there be aggressive, seek them out, find them and arrest them as the (hard-line) Sheriff Arpaio advocates?”Romney’s full answer: “You know, I think you see a model in Arizona. They passed a law here that says – that says that people who come here and try and find work, that the employer is required to look them up on E-Verify. This e-verify system allows employers in Arizona to know who’s here legally and who’s not here legally. And as a result of e-verify being put in place, the number of people in Arizona that are here illegally has dropped by some 14 percent, where the national average has only gone down seven percent. So going back to the question that was asked, the right course for America is to drop these lawsuits against Arizona and other states that are trying to do the job Barack Obama isn’t doing. And I will drop those lawsuits on day one. I’ll also complete the fence. I’ll make sure we have enough border patrol agents to secure the fence. And I will make sure we have an E-Verify system and require employers to check the documents of workers, and to check E-Verify. And if an employer hires someone that has not gone through E-Verify, they’re going to get sanctioned just like they do for not paying their taxes. You do that, and just as Arizona is finding out, you can stop illegal immigration. It’s time we finally did it.”Whoa. This guy is slick. Remember when Bill Clinton was (rightfully) nicknamed Slick Willie? Let’s put our hands together for Slick Willard.The question was clearly about SB 1070, and Romney’s initial response (“You know, I think you see a model in Arizona”) left the impression that he was endorsing it as a model – without ever actually addressing the law’s papers-please provision and the issue of aggressive arrests. He then went on to talk about other stuff (E-Verify), and never returned to the core question. It was all very slick, particularly when he said that he, as president, would drop the federal lawsuits against Arizona “on day one.” He made it sound like Obama had sued Arizona over E-Verify, but no, the party that sued Arizona over E-Verify was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The federal lawsuit, the one he’d drop on day one, targeted all provisions of SB 1070. Which is why everyone came away with the impression that Romney stood with Arizona on that law.Kobach, for one, still insists that Romney stands with the law. (These old inconvenient friends are tough to shake). Kobach told CNN the other day, “I think it would be unusual for a national presidential candidate to back away from statements he’s made in debates, and he hasn’t shown any sign of doing so.” And another old friend, Russell Pearce, a former Arizona Senate Republican leader and driving force behind SB 1070, insisted earlier this month that Romney is still his old self. He told The Washington Post that Romney’s “immigration policy is identical to mine,” and he told the press earlier this week that Romney “absolutely” indicated to him that the Arizona law should be a model for America.Plus, the old self is still on the record in all kinds of venues. Romney told a town hall meeting last September, “I support the Arizona law.” That same month, he told an Arizona reporter that he, unlike President Obama, would never “bring lawsuits against states that are basically putting in place efforts to try and secure the border.” Not once did he reach out to Hispanics and suggest that it might be wrong to enact a law that virtually encourages the cops to engage in racial profiling – a missed opportunity, perhaps, since polls have long reported that nearly 80 percent of Hispanics dislike the Arizona law.But that was then. Today, all of a sudden, Romney is worried about Hispanic voters and the prospect of “doom.” Hence the new rollout. But the trek toward the center is long and arduous when you start so far from the right, and not even a shedding of former selves can arguably lighten his load.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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