Republican senators are backing up Mitt Romney's vacillation on the new changes in immigration President Obama announced last Friday -- with even more vacillation. To put it another way, Mitt Romney is effectively leading his party... into a morass of uncertainty.
The first inkling that President Obama's co-option of Marco Rubio's idea for a watered-down DREAM Act had created befuddlement in the Republican Party was, of course, Mitt Romney's waffling -- which we explored yesterday in great detail. Now the secondary ripples from Mitt's refusal to announce any sort of political stance or clear decision seem to be appearing.
Yesterday, Marco Rubio himself apparently told the New York Times that he was throwing in the towel, and would not introduce his bill at all. This is rather stunning, because it is a refutation of the only position Mitt Romney has so far managed to take on the issue -- that we need a "long-term" solution to the problem and that Obama's "stop-gap" solution wasn't good enough. One would think -- if this were actually true -- that the immediate response from Rubio would have been to introduce his bill on the Senate floor, decry Obama's stop-gap measure, press hard for an immediate vote on his own, and claim all kinds of political credit (which would be pathetically easy to do: "Finally the president has realized that Republican ideas are the way to go!").
Instead of doing so, Rubio cravenly caved. Now, if Romney is right and what we really need is a permanent solution, then the fact that Rubio just completely gave up on producing this solution means that the Republicans are back to square one on the entire question. Perhaps this is why the Romney team then leaked that they hadn't even bothered to begin vetting Rubio for the vice presidential slot on the ticket yet. Dark stormy phone calls behind the scenes between the two camps can easily be imagined, all weekend long, with such a broken result on Monday morning. At this point, Mitt's going to have to be mighty desperate to capture Florida's electoral votes to even consider naming Rubio as his running mate, one is forced to conclude.
Today, the confusion spread even further. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, when asked what the Republicans planned to do on the whole DREAM Act question, responded he was following his party's nominal leader Mitt Romney, and would be waiting to see what Mitt decided to do -- if and when Mitt actually does decide to make a decision. Or, maybe, not.
The band Rush had a song with an appropriate lyric, which begs to be quoted here: "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice."
Perhaps Mitt will have the whole thing figured out by Thursday, when he is scheduled to talk to Latino leaders. Perhaps the Obama team should put up one of those ticking clocks somewhere (call it a "3:00 A.M. clock," perhaps) which shows the time which has passed since the president's announcement that Mitt Romney has so far taken without figuring out some sort of position.
This issue was supposed to be a core issue for the Republican Party this election cycle. Marco Rubio thought he had the golden answer to the problems his party has had with Latino voters. This magic answer was to take the DREAM Act, and change it so that none of the Latinos covered by the legislation would ever, ever get a chance to vote in an American election (which terrifies the Republican Party no end), but which would also actually have a prayer of passing the Republican House. He soon found out this was harder than he had thought to actually do -- mostly because the Republican House was in no mood to court the Latino vote in any way, shape, or form -- but that doesn't change the fact that Rubio's idea was deemed so good that he was catapulted to the top of the short list for vice president.
Mitt Romney's team, to put it mildly, should have seen this coming. Not the fact that Obama co-opted Rubio's idea so brilliantly, but the fact that Romney was going to have to take some sort of solid position on it sooner or later. They've had months to do focus groups, conduct polling, and craft a message for Romney on the issue. They have -- quite obviously -- utterly failed to do so. Making this merely the latest in a long line of such campaign stumbles for Romney (the earliest, I believe, was Mitt being caught flatfooted on the question of releasing his tax returns, early in the primary season -- which also took him weeks to address, even though he should have seen it coming months beforehand).
McConnell's answer to questions about his stance on the issue was a wee bit telling, though. Call it a Freudian-Washington slip, if you will. From the Roll Call article which broke the story: " 'He [Romney] is the leader of our party from now until November,' McConnell said, explaining why he didn’t want to comment on the matter."
Really? Only until November? Do you know something the rest of us don't, Mitch? Just asking, since that's actually an awfully pessimistic statement for any party's leadership to make during an election season.
-- Chris Weigant
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant