Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Lesson for Jeb: What Romney was actually trying to do on immigration

Yesterday morning, Jeb Bush said he opposed a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, which was a reversal from previous statements.

Then, on Monday night, he seemed to reverse himself again, claiming that he could support some sort of path.

It's not totally clear what Jeb's final word will be, but here's something important to remember about Romney's 2012 primary playbook on immigration.

Romney's move to the right on immigration wasn't about getting immigration hawks to vote for him, instead, it was about getting them to abandon Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich.

If you remember, Perry briefly assumed front-runner status after entering the race, and really never relinquished it until he claimed that opponents of the DREAM Act were "heartless". That was the first and most important blow in his bid to claim the tea party mantle.

In that case, it wasn't Romney's hawkishness that won him votes; it was Perry's position that lost Perry votes; thereby, propelling Romney to the top again.

I doubt Romney won a single primary vote because hawks thought he was like this on immigration.

Did anyone really buy Romney's border hawk shtick?

Instead, hawks realized that Perry wasn't as conservative on immigration as he was on other things, and probably ended up not voting, or drifted into Gingrich or Santorum's camps.

In other words, tea partiers now thought Perry looked like this even if they didn't trust Romney on the issue.

Romney to Perry and Newt: You're a hippie party lunch plate

A bit later, when Newt Gingrich became an existential threat to Romney, Mitt unloaded attack-after-attack on Newt -- some of which included bashes on Newt for being too leftish on immigration.

Again, that was only about disqualifying Gingrich, thereby, propping Romney up by splintering the tea party and keeping it from coalescing behind a single Anti-Romney.

Immigration hawks never truly thought Romney was one of them, but at some point, they had thought Gingrich and Perry were one of them.

When they found out Perry and Newt were just as squishy on immigration as Romney at various points in Mitt's career, the tea partiers wasted primary after primary, trying to figure out who was the true Anti-Romney, while Mitt enjoyed the fruits of the splinter.

In the end, I don't really think a single immigration hawk really thought Romney was committed to the cause -- such were Romney's flips and the distrust around him.

But, ironically, who really bought the idea that Romney patrolled the border at night and wielded a machine gun on a jet ski in the Rio Grande?


That, obviously, wasn't in the Romney plan. Hispanics were supposed to know he was only kidding in the primary. They weren't going to really buy the idea that the "Massachusetts Moderate" wanted self-deportation, were they?

AllahPundit notes that the same thing might be going on in Jeb's mind.

I assume he thinks he’s built up enough cred with Latinos over the years that backing away from a path to citizenship now won’t cost him many votes. .

In other words, Jeb's mind:  Hispanics know I've always been very friendly to them; thus, after a brief turn to the right on immigration in a primary, I can easily pivot back to the middle because they'll know I was just kidding in the primary.

Well, maybe they won't think Jeb's kidding -- just like they didn't think Romney was.

So if Jeb is going to do this rightward thing on immigration, it's not going to endear him to anyone just like it didn't endear anyone to Romney.

Instead, it's all about disqualifying potential opponents.