Last week at the Campaign Managers Conference at the Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades was asked if he regretted attacking Rick Perry for his stance on immigration during the Republican primary season.
“‘I regret that …’ Rhoades said, before stopping himself, and phrasing his answer differently.
Rhoades went on to describe how the Romney campaign may have regarded Perry as a mortal threat for too long, leading it to engage him beyond the point when it was necessary, and setting itself up for a hard-right turn on immigration.
‘If you look through the unwinding of the Perry campaign, a lot of people put a focus on that one infamous debate moment,’ Rhoades said, referring to Perry’s epic “oops” moment at an early November debate in Detroit, when Perry could not remember the three federal agencies he planned to eliminate.
‘But it was the earliest debates, the first and second debates,’ Rhoades said. ‘And by the third debate, and this was well before the other moment, I think Governor Perry was badly hurt.’
Rhoades reflected on how Romney had inflicted damage on Perry in early September with attacks on his comments that Social Security was a “Ponzi scheme” and his plan to turn the plan over to state governments.
‘In retrospect, I believe we probably could have just beaten Governor Perry with the Social Security hit,’ Rhoades said.”
In a debate in September 2011, Perry defended his policy of supporting in state tuition in Texas for children who were brought to the country and found themselves without proper documentation. Governor Perry said, “If you say that we should not educate children that have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought here by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart.”
Romney had vetoed in state tuition for undocumented students as the Governor of Massachusetts and told Perry in that same debate that offering the tuition break is “a magnet that draws people into this country.” Romney continued to pile it on with the immigration attacks against Perry even using an ad that featured the former President of Mexico praising the Texas Governor for allowing migrant students to have access to in state tuition.
In moving further to the right on immigration by suggesting policies like “self-deportation,” calling Arizona’s SB 1070 a model for the nation, and vowing to veto the DREAM Act, Romney made it harder for his campaign to moderate its tone on the immigration issue in the general election. The irony is that he could have left it alone without doing his campaign harm because immigration was not ranking as a top issue for voters in general. Even amongst Latino voters, immigration tends to rank behind jobs and the economy as a key issue.