Romney Dodges on Immigration, Again

Fittingly, the only thing that distinguished Mitt Romney’s speech to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials from his usual stump address was the slight focus on Latino unemployment, and a fairly a brief mention of immigration.

He offered a few ideas—prioritizing green cards for families, eliminating “bureaucratic red tape,” completing a high tech fence, creating an easier path to citizenship for service-members, and implementing an “improved exit verification system.” He didn’t say whether he would rescind Obama’s immigration order, but he pledge to put in place a “long-term solution that will replace and supersede the President’s temporary measure.”

Overall, his take on immigration was vague and platitudinous. He promised to address the problem of illegal immigration in a “civil but resolute manner,” and pledged to find a bipartisan agreement for the immigration reform that he refuses to detail. And in a sharp difference with the Mitt Romney of January 2012, he made no mention of his support for Arizona-style laws or “self-deportation.”

Aside from this, the bulk of the speech was devoted to knocking Obama, again, for his economic stewardship—a smart strategy. As long as the attention is focused on Obama, he avoids scrutiny for his own views. He implied that the stimulus was a failure, and blamed the Affordable Care Act for stunting small businesses—despite the fact that the law has not been implemented in full (more on this in a later post). What’s more, Romney unveiled a new response to Obama campaign rhetoric. Rather than contest the fact that Obama inherited a terrible economy, or rely on bogus numbers, Romney has moved to compare Obama to other presidents who entered office during a recession:

Just compare this President’s record with Ronald Reagan’s first term. President Reagan also faced an economic crisis. In fact, in 1982, the unemployment rate peaked at nearly 11 percent. But in the two years that followed, he delivered a true recovery – economic growth and job creation were three times higher than in the Obama Economy.

If President Obama had delivered a real recovery – a Reagan recovery – we would have five million more jobs today. The unemployment rate would be about six percent. And our economy would be at least one trillion dollars larger.

The implication, of course, is that if you elect Romney, he will deliver a Reagan recovery. And, as something of a book-end to this point, he finished the speech with a call to center this election on the performance of Barack Obama:

This isn’t an election about two people. This isn’t an election about being a Republican, Democrat, or an independent. This is an election about the future of America. I would ask each of you to look at the last three and a half years, and ask whether we can do better.

Like all of Romney’s speeches, this one fit the template for his campaign against Obama: hammer the president for sluggish growth, blame his policies for hampering the recovery, ignore any context for the current economic situation, and promise to lead the country to economic growth through tax cuts and fewer regulations. Sprinkled in are attacks on the president’s integrity and trustworthiness, as well as soaring praise of America’s greatness.

Missing from this is any discussion of policy, and particular, policies aimed at cyclical unemployment. As I’ve pointed out before, Romney doesn’t actually have a plan for dealing with the short-term economic situation. At the absolute best, his policies would help the United States deal with long-term growth. Indeed, there’s little indication that Romney is actually interested in the short-term picture; as Jonathan Bernstein notes, Romney is more concerned with inflation than anything else.

The problem for Obama is that none of this matters. As captured by the Associated Press, frustrated voters will vote for the challenger regardless of what he offers, and Romney in particular enjoys the presumption of economic competence. In other words, regardless of what he says, both voters and pundits assume that Romney both cares about the short-term picture, and is prepared to do something about it. It’s not an insurmountable obstacle for the Obama campaign, but it will be extremely hard to take down.