Can Republican Candidates Avoid Romney’s Fatal Error?

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (photo credit: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (photo credit: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0)

It may be hard to believe about a man who won just 28 percent of the Latino vote, but 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney didn’t plan on making immigration a big part of his campaign.  It originally started as a way to oust potential rival Rick Perry, according to the Huffington Post:

They found a potential weak spot: immigration. Perry had expressed some views, such as supporting in-state tuition for certain undocumented immigrants and opposing a border fence, that polled poorly with the GOP base. Although Romney hadn’t planned to make immigration a major campaign issue, some aides thought that taking a tougher stance could help his numbers, a former staffer said.

Sound familiar?  It should.  Candidates like Scott Walker and Chris Christie have also been hardening their immigration stances to beat primary rivals like Jeb Bush, and their flip flopping is hurting their chances with Latino voters, says APIA’s (and The Pulse contributor) Alfonso Aguilar:

“I think he (Walker)’s already done with Latino voters because of that statement questioning immigration, whether it depresses wages,” Aguilar said. “I mean, that’s it, he’s gone off the deep end… Of the top-tier candidates, Walker is the one that has really, really, really stepped on it.”

Jeb Bush once said that a successful candidate needs to be willing to “lose the primary to win the general.”  I don’t think they need to go quite that far: There’s considerable evidence that a majority of Republicans support a path to legal status, as do a supermajority of the evangelicals that dominate the early contests.  A candidate who stands up and makes a strong conservative case for immigration reform stands a good chance of winning over Republicans in the primary and would almost certainly go on to win the White House in 2016.

Nick Arnold is a researcher for American Principles in Action.