Yes, Romney the Presidential Candidate Was Right Wing on Immigration

Remember “self-deportation” and his attacks on Rick Perry’s compassion for Dreamers? Photo: Kim Raff/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Mitt Romney has clearly decided he wants his coronation as a U.S. senator from Utah to proceed as smoothly as possible, without any conflict with the president of the United States or opposition from hard-core conservatives in his adopted state. The endorsement he received from Trump last month helps him on both fronts. But he’s still being cautious, reassuring voters that he’s not going to Washington as some sort of heretic (echoing assurances he kept making to conservatives during his two presidential runs).

But some eyebrows were raised at this Romney assertion on the campaign trail, as reported by Katie England:

U.S. Senate candidate Mitt Romney spent much of a question-and-answer session in Provo Monday describing his relationship with President Donald Trump if elected, as well as establishing his conservative credentials….

Romney went so far as to say he’s more conservative on certain issues than President Trump.

“For instance, I’m a deficit hawk,” Romney said. “That makes me more conservative than a lot of Republicans and a lot of Democrats. I’m also more of a hawk on immigration than even the president. My view was these DACA kids shouldn’t all be allowed to stay in the country legally.”

More of an immigration hawk than Mr. Border Wall himself?

Well, Romney may be exaggerating a bit by describing Trump’s position as embracing a “path to citizenship” for the kids once (and at least temporarily now) protected by DACA; the president is offering that only in exchange for all sorts of nativist goodies that immigration advocates (and their Democratic allies) may never accept.

But for those with short memories, it’s incontrovertible that Mitt Romney was a big-time immigration hawk as a presidential candidate.

This didn’t just start in 2012. In 2008, when he had some success marketing himself as the “movement conservative” candidate, he ran this ad which sounds a bit like you-know-who:

But in 2012, Romney really kicked out the jams as the tough-on-immigration candidate. Aside from repeatedly opposing “amnesty” for the undocumented and repeatedly touting Arizona’s “show your papers” law as a “national model,” Mitt famously endorsed a strategy of “self-deportation” for immigrants, which basically meant making their lives so miserable through various forms of harassment that they’d leave the country at their own expense.

As for Dreamers, Romney went after his most dangerous primary rival, Rick Perry, with a claw hammer for the Texas governor’s sponsorship of a state version of the DREAM Act; this simultaneously damaged Perry (who didn’t handle the attacks very well) and added to Mitt’s conservative street cred.

By the time Romney won the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, he clearly understood he had probably overplayed the nativist hand. There were reports for a good while that he was planning a late-campaign embrace of legislation offering limited and temporary protection for Dreamers being prepared by Senator Marco Rubio that some called “DREAM Act Lite.” But the Romney pivot was preempted and ruined by Barack Obama’s June 2012 DACA initiative, which to some extent may have been designed to do just that. So in appealing to Latino voters, Republicans were stuck with the candidate they had.

This is all important background for the much-discussed fact that Trump did marginally better than Romney among Latino voters. Is that really a testament to Trump’s weird appeal, or more a reflection of how poorly Mitt presented himself to Latinos?

In any event, Romney has some genuine reason to boast of being as reactionary as Trump on immigration policy, if not actually “more of a hawk” than the president. In a long career of flipping and flopping on various issues, Romney’s in fact been consistently bad on this subject for quite some time.

Yes, Romney Was Right Wing on Immigration in 2008 and 2012