The news cycle in the 2012 presidential race seems down to about 2-3 hours. Indeed, harmful as it was to his broader effort, Mitt Romney might have been relieved to issue his tax returns this morning if for no other reason than this: It took the focus off what I thought was a major blunder in the Monday night debate that was televised on NBC.
I'm talking about this:
ROMNEY: Well, the answer is self-deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can`t find work here because they don`t have legal documentation to allow them to work here. And so we`re not going to round people up.
The way that we have in this society is to say, look, people who have come here legally would, under my plan, be given a transition period and the opportunity during that transition period to work here, but when that transition period was over, they would no longer have the documentation to allow them to work in this country. At that point, they can decide whether to remain or whether to return home and to apply for legal residency in the United States, get in line with everybody else. And I know people think but that`s not fair to those that have come here illegally.
It's a fascinating idea -- the modern GOP's obsession with the sanctity of free markets leading inevitably to "a free-market solution" to immigration. Since he'll make it impossible for undocumented immigrants to get jobs, Romney argues, the marketplace will make them go back to Ecuador or Thailand or wherever. The biggest problem with Romney's idea is that there is nothing in the history of American immigration over the last two centuries to make anyone think this would happen, even if President Romney pulls off his Orwellian coup of a step towards a national ID card.
But in the short term, "self-deportation" is a bigger political problem for Romney.
Why? I think it makes him look weak in the eyes of Tea Party voters, who must be influential in Florida politics or they would not now have a governor as horrific as Rick Scott. The real base of the GOP doesn't want a tidy "free market" solution to immigration issues, even if such a solution actually existed. No, it wants blood. OK, maybe not blood, but pink underwear. That's the tough-guy approach to immigration adopted by the right's hero on this matter, Phoenix-area sheriff Joe Arpaio, who also goes out regularly on raids and wants power to racially profile and make lots and lots of arrests, which isn't "self-deportation" in any sense of the word. So I think Romney's stance makes him look weak going into Tuesday's primary.
And it probably doesn't help him much with a huge bloc of Cuban-Americans in South Florida who tend to vote Republican -- this notion that the only way to deal with people in the United States without papers is simply to drive them away. I could be wrong. We'll see.
The New York Times has a good piece up this afternoon about the immigration issue in the Florida primary. I thought this sums up why "self-deportation" won't work:
But, Ms. Pestana, who owns an assisted living center, said she viewed Mr. Gingrich’s position on immigration — an issue she considers secondary — as more realistic. Her son recently tried to hire American citizens for his roofing company, she said, and found no takers.
“Who will fix our roofs and pick our tomatoes?” asked Ms. Pestana.