Call it a case of right message, wrong messenger.
Attacked by Mitt Romney for his lax record on illegal immigration as mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani returned fire on Wednesday, charging that as Governor of Massachusetts, Mr. Romney “did very little about (immigration) until the last day or two he was in office—and it never had any impact.”
Rudy is absolutely correct.
Granted, the former mayor is the last person who should be advancing this argument. He’s playing the same disingenuous game that Mr. Romney is: pretending that his commitment to an immigration crackdown is anything other than an opportunistic ploy born of the political imperatives that come with running as a Republican in 2008.
But it’s Mr. Romney’s hypocrisy on this subject that is particularly telling, because it fits seamlessly with the camouflaging he’s done on practically every issue of consequence to the G.O.P. electorate. He has campaigned in 2007 as the conservative’s conservative, but he showed absolutely no interest in building such a record in Massachusetts when he had the opportunity.
Immigration is a perfect example. To a G.O.P. base that cares passionately about this issue, Mr. Romney offers himself as a courageous breath of fresh air from Ted Kennedy’s backyard, doing God’s work in a liberal state where most politicians would happily declare all 352 cities and towns immigrant sanctuaries if they could.
“As Governor,” Mr. Romney brags in a new ad, “I authorized the State Police to enforce immigration laws. I opposed driver’s licenses and in-state tuition for illegal aliens.”
To the average caucus-goer, this surely sounds convincing coming from Mitt Romney, with his confident charm and impeccable delivery. It also helps that the average caucus-goer wasn’t paying much attention to Massachusetts in 2003, 2004, 2005, and most of 2006.
Consider the centerpiece of his I-got-tough-on-illegals boast: his move to use the State Police to enforce immigration laws.
He launched the initiative in the middle of 2006—with just months remaining on his term and well into a lame-duck period that had begun the year before—when it became clear how important the issue would be in the G.O.P. presidential primary. He finally received the necessary clearance from the federal government in December, in his administration’s final days, and then issued (and loudly trumpeted) an executive order—even though the Governor-elect, a Democrat whose landslide win was partly attributable to irate voters who felt Mr. Romney quit on his job in order to run for President, had made it clear that he would immediately rescind the order upon taking office.
On the State Police issue, Mr. Giuliani’s critique is squarely on point: Mr. Romney’s order, which would have required several months of training for a select few state troopers before it could be implemented, never went into effect.
It was, of course, all for show—for an audience in Iowa and South Carolina, and not in Massachusetts. What Mr. Romney sought to do was actually rather complicated, given the questions of which state troops would be selected to enforce immigration laws, how they would be trained (and at what cost), and how the program might effect existing relationships between the police and illegal immigrants who were willing to provide information that might prevent crimes. But he pursued it in a sloppy, last-minute fashion that made it only too easy for his successor to scrap the whole plan without paying a political price.