Romney's strategic failure on immigration

Romney’s whole post-primary approach to immigration — recently summarized in his speech to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials — has been careful and reasonable. He faults President Obama for election-year urgency on immigration policy after 31 / 2 years of passivity. He highlights the scandal of double-digit Hispanic unemployment. He calls for easier family unification for permanent residents, green cards for those earning advanced degrees, and a path to legal status in exchange for military service.

Considered individually, these messages and policies make sense. Taken together, they are a strategic failure. Romney is being careful and reasonable on immigration in the midst of a five-alarm political fire. Latino support for Republicans has been dropping since conservatives blocked President George W. Bush’s attempt at comprehensive immigration reform. Romney accelerated the descent by pledging to veto the Dream Act as president. His polling among Hispanics now bumps along at about 25 percent — a level that seems inconsistent with winning Colorado, Nevada or perhaps even Florida. It is an uphill political task merely to match John McCain’s level of Latino enthusiasm. Attaining even this modest goal will require an outreach strategy bolder than “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

On immigration, President Obama’s boldness of late has been Napoleonic. The French emperor is hardly a model for a democratic statesman, given the coup of 18 Brumaire and all that. But he knew how to throw his strength at an opponent’s weak point at a decisive moment — which Obama did with his mini-Dream Act. It was a questionable use of executive power. But after weeks of political stumbles, Obama proved capable of an audacious stroke. And it is not likely to be his last. A campaign proud of its micro-targeting has plenty of demographic groups left to motivate.