To appreciate the tactical brilliance of Barack Obama’s chess move on immigration – on Friday, the president made it easier for the children of illegal immigrants to stay in this country – just check out Mitt Romney’s hapless reaction.
On CBS News’ Face the Nation yesterday, Romney was the epitome of the bobbing and weaving politician. Four times, he refused to answer a simple question. That’s because he had been checkmated by Obama’s move. He didn’t dare endorse what Obama had announced, lest he tick off the conservative base within the white people’s party. Yet he didn’t dare attack what Obama had announced, lest he (further) alienate the Hispanic voters who could be pivotal in swing states like Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Virginia.Obama announced Friday – via a change in Homeland Security policy – that illegal immigrants will not be deported if they came here before age 16; if they’re younger than 30; if they have no criminal record; if they graduated from high school or hold an equivalent diploma or served in the military; and if they’ve been here for at least five continuous years. In one stroke, Obama bypassed Congress (where immigration reform has long languished), cheered the Hispanic voters whom he needs this fall, and sowed havoc within the Republican opposition – pitting the intolerant nativists against the pragmatists who worry that Romney will lose the race if Hispanics stomp him in the swing states.Romney is in a box of his own making. His primary season pandering has come home to roost. During the debates, he inveighed so fiercely against illegal immigration that he wound up to the right of Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich (no easy feat). He attacked Perry for offering in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants. He attacked Gingrich when Newt said that we shouldn’t deport illegal immigrants who have led stable law-abiding lives. He said we should make these immigrants’ lives so miserable that they’ll hopefully “self deport.” He said that, as president, he’d veto the proposed DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship.No wonder Romney trailed Obama among Hispanics by roughly 35 percentage points – and that was before Obama made his announcement and stoked enthusiasm among those voters.Romney needs to draw more Hispanics, but can ill afford to alienate the rabid right. Which is why, on Friday, it took him six hours to craft a non-response response to Obama’s announcement. And which is why he ducked and dodged on Face The Nation. Four separate times, Bob Schieffer asked whether he, as president, would repeal Obama’s compassionate deportation policy. And four times…well, see for yourself:1. Schieffer: “Would you repeal this order if you became President?”Romney: “Well, let’s step back and – and look at the issue. I mean, first of all, we have to secure the border. We need to have an employment verification system to make sure that those that are working here in this country are here legally and then with regards to these kids who were brought in by their parents through no fault of their own, there needs to be a long-term solution so they know what their status is. This is something Congress has been working on…”2. Schieffer: “Well, what would you do about it?”Romney: “…What I would do is I’d make sure that by coming into office I would work with Congress to put in place a long-term solution for the – for the children of those that – that have come here illegally…”3. Schieffer: “Sure, but would you repeal this?”Romney: “Well, it would be overtaken by events, if you will, by virtue of my putting in place a long-term solution with – with legislation which creates law that relates to these individuals, such that they know what their – their stat – setting is going to be – not just – not – not just for the term of the president, but on a permanent basis.”4. Schieffer: “I won’t keep on about this but just to – to make sure I understand, would you leave this (Obama order) in place while you worked out a long-term solution or would you just repeal it?”Romney: “We’ll – we’ll look at that – we’ll look at that setting as we – as we reach that. But my anticipation is, I’d come into office and say we need to get this done on a long-term basis, not this kind of a stopgap measure…”So many words, with nothing to say. If he’d vowed to repeal the Obama order, he’d lose even more Hispanics; if he’d vowed to sustain the order, heads would’ve detonated on the rabid right. Hence all the dilatory double talk, starting with his initial gambit: “Let’s step back and look at the issue.” That’s Bobbing and Weaving 101. And when a Republican talks about “long-term solutions” to immigration, that’s basically code for continuing to do nothing. Senate Republicans blocked immigration reform back when President Bush admirably tried for it, and Senate Republicans blocked it again in December 2010, when the path-to-citizenship DREAM Act died despite the support of 55 senators. Obama did his “stopgap measure” because Republicans on the Hill have long refused to work with him.Romney and the GOP even had a chance to lead on this issue, and blew it. Wunderkind du jour Marco Rubio, the Florida senator and supposed front-runner for the veep slot, had long vowed to draft a softer, alternative immigration reform bill that would give Romney cover with Hispanic voters. But Rubio never got around to drafting it, a lot of Senate Republicans were not on board with it (shocking!), and Romney failed to champion it. So Obama marched in and stole their thunder.Actually, there was another reason why Obama acted as he did. Romney whined about it yesterday: “He saves these sort of things until four and a half months before the general election. I think the timing is pretty clear…(Politics) is certainly a big part of the equation.”Wow, what a radical concept – a president making a policy move that benefits him politically. Romney has apparently spent no time studying Obama’s predecessors, starting with George W. Bush, who breached his own free-trade principles when he summarily slapped 30 percent tariffs on foreign-made steel in order to curry favor with the hard-hat labor unions, particularly steelworkers in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, during the run-up to his 2004 re-election campaign.That’s one of the perks of incumbency. It always has been. What bugs the GOP the most is not that Obama played politics – but that, on this crucial issue affecting a crucial swing-state electorate, Obama played smart politics and made them look stupid.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1