Mitt Romney, Human Question Mark

By Emily Theroux

Ever get the feeling that Mitt Romney qualifies everything he says to death?

He’s careful never to: a) utter a simple declarative sentence; b) directly answer a direct question; c) take a definitive stand on any controversial subject; d) reveal that he lacks any sincere or strongly held beliefs; or, e) reveal that, au contraire (as Missionary Mitt might have said, waiting out the Vietnam War in Gay Paree), he actually has any sincere or strongly held beliefs. If Multiple Choice Mitt, as one wag called him, continues to hide behind temporizing, query-dodging, and verbal gymnastics, pretty soon, nothing he says will make sense to anyone who still cares to listen.

The candidate’s question circumvention, it appears, may already have reached critical mass. Mitt is currently “trying to walk a line” (translation from Republican: ducking the question) by camouflaging his reaction to President Obama’s new deportation policy for undocumented immigrants.

A Bloomberg poll released three days after Obama’s announcement revealed that Americans enthusiastically support the plan by a margin of more than 2 to 1. Mitt, however, blindsided by the president’s stroke of sheer political genius, has been caught dumbstruck with his pants bunched around his ankles – a posture that could make walking and evading pundits at the same time a harrowing experience.

Bewildered by this unexpected challenge, Mitt found himself faced with another of those risky sit-down interviews with a non-Fox journalist. His interrogator, CBS veteran Bob Schieffer, asked Romney five times whether he would rescind Obama’s grant of deferred action – which is not an executive order, a form of “back-door amnesty,” or a path to permanent legal status, as some news outlets have mistakenly reported. Instead, this presidential directive (lauded by the reform advocacy group America’s Voice as “the biggest news on immigration in 25 years”) offers a reprieve from the threat of deportation to some 800,000 “DREAMers” – those undocumented immigrants age 30 or under who were brought here as children.

Mitt Romney’s ‘great allergy to specifics and details’
Facing Bob Schieffer’s simple question, Mitt meandered, stuttered, and blundered through a series of obfuscations that clearly didn’t meet Schieffer’s standards for an answer. Mitt suggested they “step back and look at the issue,” then segued into a nonsequitur about Obama’s alleged failure to do anything about immigration reform earlier in his term. (This charge, one of Mitt’s stock campaign lies, ignores the fact that Senate Republicans shot down the DREAM Act during the 2010 lame duck session of Congress by once again abusing the filibuster during a procedural vote.)

Still stalling Schieffer, Romney digressed about the military and then nonsensically claimed that any perceived need for him to reply to Schieffer’s question “would be overtaken by events, if you will, by virtue of my putting in place a long-term solution with – with legislation which creates law that relates to these individuals, such that they know what their – their status … is going to be.”

After Romney’s disastrous “Face the Nation” interview, Rich Lowry of the National Review observed that the candidate exhibits a “great allergy to specifics and details.” The reason he’s so vague, Lowry speculated, is that Romney believed he lost his 1994 Senate race against Teddy Kennedy because he was “too specific” when speaking to the press. Hence, his manic swing to the opposite pole: extreme equivocation.

Mitt thought he had plenty of time to wait for Sen. Marco Rubio to come up with a bright idea that would exculpate him from his “severely conservative” position on immigration during the primaries: that undocumented immigrants should simply “self-deport.” Mitt figured the current Congress wouldn’t pass any version of the DREAM Act, whether it bore Rubio’s imprimatur or not. If they did, he reasoned, he could simply veto it; he boasted about that frequently on the campaign trail.

Mittens hides out between a rock and a hard place
As things stand now, Mitt can choose to court Latino voters by admitting that he’ll probably leave Obama’s policy in place while searching for a “long-term solution” (a phrase he repeated five times in a press statement intended to convey that – as with every other policy position about which he’s been interviewed – he didn’t plan to reveal any details until after the election). If he concedes that he won’t rescind Obama’s directive “on Day One,” he’ll antagonize the GOP’s most xenophobic supporters.

Since Rubio confessed that his “DREAM Act Lite” proposal was dead in the water once Obama enacted virtually the same plan, Mitt’s only alternative is to keep stonewalling reporters and insisting, as he did when the GOP “war against women” became an issue, that his message for Latino voters would be focused “intently” on economic issues. If he takes that route, he may alienate Latino voters even further than he already did by pandering to anti-immigrant bigotry during the primaries.

To make matters worse, Mitt’s own caucus has leapt into the fray, with Mitch McConnell and three other senators exhorting him to man up and explain in detail, at an upcoming conference of Latino officials, what he’s planning to do about immigration. In the House, John Boehner and company have joined their radical base to denounce Obama’s plan as “executive overreach.”

Boehner shed crocodile tears for Obama’s “victims” while speculating about the constitutionality of the president’s proposal. Adding insult to stupefying hypocrisy, Boehner (who practically invented gridlock) huffed, “The president’s actions make it much more difficult for us to work in a bipartisan way to get to a permanent solution.” (You want bipartisan, Mr. “Compromise – I reject the word” Boehner? Step outside, and I’ll show you bipartisan!)

Young Latinos who lobbied for DREAM Act elated, worried
Whether Obama’s immigration plan is challenged in court or emerges as a viable policy, many young DREAMers who hope to be spared from deportation are jubilant. Others, however, remain apprehensive about declaring their identity to the government. Although the Obama administration has tried previously to deter Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from deporting so many young, productive immigrants and asked the agency to focus instead on apprehending undocumented criminals, ICE isn’t bound by law to halt deportations simply because the administration asks them to. Instead of being handled by ICE, however, this new, more affirmative process will be implemented by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that handles benefits, not enforcement.

If Mitt ever gets around to formulating a response to the plaintive queries of DREAMers, they may find his dissembling approach offers far too little, way too late. No one will be paying attention any longer, whether he runs his malicious ads in Spanish, Klingon, or Farsi.

The lesson Mitt may glean from this humiliating episode is written in plain English: When you stop taking questions in public life, you learn the hard way that people soon stop waiting for your answers.

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