Mitt Romney’s Playbook on Immigration, Everything: Pivot to the Economy

Jun 23, 2012 6:00am

Just when you think identity politics is back, Mitt Romney does his best to squash it.

Now that the Obama administration says it will no longer deport young illegal immigrants, pundits have wondered whether Romney’s criticism of the move – and the ambiguity over whether or not he would actually reverse the policy, if elected – will hurt him among Latino voters. The former governor and his campaign have an answer: the economy.

On Friday, the campaign unveiled a slew of “Juntos con Romney” Latino supporters, and their message was mostly about jobs.

“President Obama has let down our Hispanic community. Instead of spurring economic growth and job creation, his policies have held back Hispanic small businesses and led to higher unemployment,” said Victor Cabral of Virginia, in the campaign’s roll-out news release.

Romney for President also debuted this infographic highlighting Latinos’ economic struggles during Obama’s presidency (click for full-sized version):

RFP Hispanic Hispanics Info Final small 128x300 Mitt Romneys Playbook on Immigration, Everything: Pivot to the Economy

Romney’s maneuver is basic: Criticized for policies unpopular with a particular demographic group, he has pointed to unemployment rates in that group, diverting attention back to the campaign’s top issue and suggesting that, regardless of immigration policy, Obama’s presidency has harmed Latinos.

If this move sounds familiar, it should. Romney and his campaign employed the same strategy this spring, when Republicans faced criticism for policies that affect another group – women.

In March and April, Democrats accused Republicans of prosecuting a “war on women,” painting the GOP as anti-female in its attempt to block the mandate for contraception coverage in health insurance plans and for the ensuing Rush Limbaugh/Sandra Fluke controversy. As Romney’s critics attacked him for not condemning Limbaugh more forcefully – “It’s not the language I would have used,” he told reporters - the candidate and his campaign changed the subject, accusing Obama of engaging in a different “war on women”: an economic one.

Romney incorporated female unemployment in his stump speeches, pointing out that women had been disparately affected by the recession. Romney slammed Obama for women’s hard times on April 10, when he took the stage to acknowledge Rick Santorum’s exit from the primary.

“Over 92 percent of the jobs lost under this president were lost by women. His policies have been really a war on women. He wants to divert from that,” Romney said in a Fox News interview the next day.

Get more pure politics at ABC News.com/Politics and a lighter take on the news at OTUSNews.com

Ann Romney, meanwhile, hit the trail to reinforce the campaign’s message.

“Women are talking about the economy and jobs and about the legacy of debt that we are going to leave our children and we are mad about it. And we are going to do something about it in November,” she said two days later, as the Romney campaign deployed other female political surrogates to say that women “cannot afford” four more years of Obama.

The GOP media machine insinuated that Obama’s policies had discriminated against women economically.

Polling supports Romney’s strategy in an election year when the economy dominates all other issues. In late May, the last time ABC News asked respondents which issue concerns them most, 52 percent listed jobs and the economy; the No. 2 issue was health care, with only seven percent.

With unemployment above eight percent and not getting better, jobs are a denominator so common that Romney can use them when caught in nearly any bind.

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