Is this deja vu all over again? In 2008, John McCain flip-flopped from being a champion of amnesty for illegal aliens to a staunch opponent of amnesty as he sought the Republican presidential nomination, and then flip-flopped again once he had the nomination sewn up.
Fast forward to 2012. Mitt Romney campaigned for the GOP presidential nomination as a resolute no-amnesty-for-illegal-aliens candidate. He went so far as to state unequivocally that, as president, he would veto the DREAM Act.
Now that he has the nomination wrapped up, his, and the Republicans’, resolve appears to be weakening in the apparent belief that pandering on immigration will bring Latino voters flocking to the Republican cause. Romney has brought on former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie whose stance on immigration policy has been McCain-esque. Other prominent Republicans, including Florida Senator Marco Rubio, are floating plans for a watered down version of the DREAM Act amnesty in the hope that it will win them favor among Latino voters.
Good politics? Well, for starters, Romney might want to take note of the fact that McCain still goes by the title Senator, not President. All of McCain’s efforts, over many years, to gain amnesty for illegal aliens didn’t make him competitive among Latino voters.
Second, voters tend not to be impressed by “me-too” politics. Why would Romney and the Republicans believe that a hard core group of voters for whom amnesty is a make or break issue will be impressed by their offer of half a loaf, when the other guys are offering the whole loaf and promising them an ice cream sundae for dessert?
Third, while they chase after voters who are never going to be interested in them, they risk alienating voters who might be interested in a meaningful relationship with them – or who at least think they are the lesser of two evils. A new Quinnipiac poll finds that Romney already enjoys a 43 percent to 39 percent advantage over President Obama when it comes to immigration policy. But when it comes to independent voters, that advantage is even more pronounced. The poll found that independents favor Romney’s positions by a 48 percent to 33 percent over the president’s. Those are the voters who decided the last election and they are the ones who will decide this one too.
None of this means that both parties shouldn’t be looking for ways to appeal to Latino voters. Ironically, Rubio himself conceded that pandering on immigration isn’t going to work. In an interview with Juan Williams on Fox News, Rubio asserted that the key to winning over Latino voters is to offer them policies geared toward “economic empowerment” and other bread and butter issues.
Whichever party can do that is likely to impress not only Latino voters, but a lot of other voters as well.