It’s worthwhile to review the day in immigration and the tussle between Romney and Rudy. Early today I asked Kevin Madden, Romney spokesman why Romney hadn’t done anything about sanctuary cities in his state when he was Governor. He responded by email:
“Governor Romney worked out an agreement with the federal government to deputize state troopers to enforce immigration laws in Massachusetts, in an effort to NEGATE local sanctuary city policies and lax enforcement of existing laws. Unfortunately, localities like Cambridge and New York City enact these sanctuary city policies in defiance of FEDERAL immigration laws, not state laws. The state funding that went to Cambridge included education funding that is required by statute and driven by a state aid formula. The Governor’s proposal on withholding funding pertains to FEDERAL funding since these illegal immigration magnet cities are flouting FEDERAL immigration laws.” (Caps from Madden.)
He also cited other actions like vetoing in-state tuition for illegals and opposing drivers’ licenses for illegals. But why not cut off funds or speak out against his own sanctuary cities? Madden replied: “State funding is primarily formula driven. Leveraging action against the violation of federal immigration laws is most effectively done by withholding federal funding.” He added that the actions Romney took were “more than ‘just speaking out.'”
Then came a story from abcnews.com which included this:
While governor of Massachusetts from 2003 until 2007, three cities in Romney’s home state — Somerville, Cambridge, and Orleans — either declared or reissued declarations stating that they are in essence sanctuary cities.
Why should the American people believe Gov. Romney has the right kind of executive experience for America when he claims he was powerless to take action against the three sanctuary cities in Massachusetts who refused to enforce illegal immigration laws?” asked Jim Dyke, a senior Giuliani campaign strategist. “If there were ‘statutes’ or ‘formulas’ standing in Romney’s way, then why didn’t he take action to change them?”
But it isn’t only his Republican opponents who question Romney’s sincerity on this issue.
“Romney’s being a hypocrite on this issue,” said Joseph Curtatone, the Democratic mayor of Somerville since 2004. “I did not receive any mandate, any communication, anything at all from him about this. If it’s so important to him why didn’t he have the state police enforcing it?”
Curtatone, president of the Massachusetts Mayors Association, adds that his May 2006 declaration of Somerville as a “city of hope” committed to providing services to illegal immigrants was just official recognition of what exists everywhere in his state.
I don’t know of any community in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts — whether by official declaration or by their action — who has not adopted the same policy,” he said. “I never heard Gov. Romney bring it up one way or another.”
We also saw this story from the San Diego Union Tribune which included this:
Whether New York qualifies as a sanctuary city or not, Cambridge, Mass., has publicly proclaimed itself to be one. Romney did not reply directly when asked what action he took against Cambridge when he was governor. Instead, he listed several pieces of immigration-related legislation that he signed or vetoed. As to whether he cut off any money for Cambridge, he said: “It’s the federal government’s responsibility, of course. If I were president, I would cut off federal funds to enforce the federal immigration laws.”
I think the bottom line is that as to sanctuary cities Romney did exactly nothing. He took some other steps aimed at minimizing benefits to illegals but not much. But realistically both Rudy and Romney recognize that immigration is primarily a federal responsibility and the name of the game is to get the Feds to do something.
“We can end illegal immigration. I promise you, we can end illegal immigration.” When Rudy says that, you can believe it. As I’ve said before, the way Rudy has handled immigration has been nearly flawless. In fact, as J-Pod [John Podhoretz] would have predicted but I wouldn’t have, he’s running the kind of campaign that McCain projected to run. He’s a candidate with problems with the right who’s reaching out to conservatives and winning some of them over; benefiting from the perception that he’s the best candidate to beat Hillary; raising lots of money; and running with the kind of gusto associated with McCain 2000. The key turning point was the Senate amnesty bill: McCain chose to immolate himself with it, Rudy got out of the way and can now make a plausible play for the tough-on-the-borders right. If you want to lead a party, you have to be where the party is on the biggest, most urgent issues. Rudy realized that when McCain didn’t. What Rudy has done on immigration gives me hope on abortion: he still has room to move right on it while staying pro-choice.
So where does this leave us? Stories which fit a narrative to have staying power and I think this story is no different. As Lowry said, Rudy has credibility on law and order issues and since both Romney and Rudy recognize immigration is a federal issue he gets points for coming out with a concrete plan. He is believable when he says he will get it done. Romney? The danger of the story — highlighted by the Mayor of Somerville — is that voters perceive this squabble on his part as political opportunism. A GOP advisor on one of the campaigns observes: “Mitt Romney has a fundamental problem — he lacks core convictions to fall back on and the more voters get to know him the less they like him. People can see through a phony a mile away and that’s something Romney is going to need to deal with as he leaves his comfort zone of New Hampshire and Iowa.” Take it with a grain of salt from an opposing camp but this is not the first issue on which Romney has been accused of political opportunism.
It is always better if your campaign is about something — the more concrete the better — rather than an effort to grasp for post-Ames straws in an opponent’s record. The best thing Romney could do: come up with his own border plan and explain why he’s the guy to implement it. Until then the coverage will be largely about Rudy’s get tough plan.
UPDATE: Not surprising, most coverage both from conservative and MSM news sources (here and here and here for example) gives prominence to the details of Rudy’s plan. Others describe both his own plan and detail his counterattack on Romney. Over at RedState is a brief summary of the plan as described by Rudy on O’Reilly tonight. More on this tomorrow when a transcript is available.
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