Why Romney should flip-flop on immigration

Lanny Davis Former Special Counsel to President Bill Clinton
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OK, Gov. Romney — regarding your refusal to endorse President Obama’s executive order on immigration relief for illegal high school graduates — I have a bunch of questions for you.

How do you explain that you are now farther to the right on immigration than the following conservative Republican leaders of your party: Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Arizona Sen. John McCain, former President George W. Bush, former Florida Gov. (and brother of that president) Jeb Bush and one of the leading prospects to be on your ticket, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio?

Where does that place you on the political spectrum?

Certainly not in the mainstream of the general electorate; not even the mainstream of the major conservative leaders of the Republican Party listed above.

Of course, you did this to yourself.

During the GOP presidential debates, for example, you criticized Perry for legislation that he supported, along with most Republicans and Democrats in the Texas State Legislature, that allowed Texas students whose parents were illegal aliens to pay in-state tuition rates at Texas public universities.

When Perry defended himself from your criticism by saying, “Have a heart,” you were unfazed, leaving the impression, at least to many people, that you didn’t have one.

Then when Gingrich challenged you to explain whether you really favored sending back to Mexico a grandfather who has lived in America illegally for 25 years, raised a family and grandchildren, worked hard and abided by all other laws — your response was, lest you forget, that this grandfather and the other 11 million-plus illegal aliens should “self-deport” themselves or be forced out.

Did you really mean that?

Then last Sunday, Bob Schieffer, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” asked you whether you agreed with President Obama’s proposed executive order on undocumented high school graduates. You hemmed and hawed.

But what you seemed to forget was that President Obama’s proposal was virtually the same as the one made by Rubio. The Florida senator told CBS News last week that he favors legislation that would allow high school graduates who are in America illegally to remain so long as they wanted to go to college, didn’t have a criminal record and had lived in America for a fixed period of time; and then they would have a renewable “work visa” and “probably 10 years” down the road, would have a pathway to citizenship, without preference.

Instead of focusing on why you didn’t support the Rubio proposal, you argued that President Obama should have gotten this proposal enacted by the Democratic Congress in 2009 or 2010 rather than proposing it now via executive order. But you conveniently forgot to mention that Republican filibusters, requiring 60 votes in the Senate, killed any chance of immigration reform.

Yes, Obama’s decision to issue this executive order at this particular time, rather than a year ago or two years ago, had some political motivations. Why, this is positively shocking for a president during a reelection year!

And yes, there are serious questions on the legal authority of the president to issue such an executive order involving substantive policy changes, as the president himself stated many times in the past. But I also believe there is a sound legal argument that the president and the Justice Department may exercise prosecutorial discretion as to what deportation cases are worth bringing and what are not worth bringing. If Republicans want to bring a case to challenge the president’s order, fair enough: Let the courts decide.

But back to Romney: You have a serious political problem.

You are an outlier on this issue in your own party. You risk widening the gap with Obama among Latino voters — and it already is prohibitive — risking your chances of victory in November.

So what to do?

Here’s my advice:

You have to do something that you know how to do, something that you’ve done before, something in which you have a great deal of experience:

You have to flip-flop and go back to the center on the immigration issue.

Not to worry — no one will be surprised if you do.

Lanny Davis, the principal in the Washington law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, which also specializes in legal crisis management, served as President Clinton’s special counsel from 1996-98 and as a member of President George W. Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (2006-07). He currently serves as Special Counsel to Dilworth Paxson. He is the author of the book “Scandal: How ‘Gotcha’ Politics Is Destroying America” and the forthcoming book, “Crisis Tales – Five Rules for Handling Scandal in Business, Politics and Life,” to be published by Simon & Schuster.