This post has been updated.
RNC chairman Reince Priebus offered a harsh denunciation of Mitt Romney’s immigration position on Tuesday. But contrary to a report from Business Insider, he did not label it “racist.” msnbc picked up the line from their coverage, but Business Insider has since corrected their piece and withdrawn the phrase.
In the initial report, Business Insider quoted Priebus as saying:
“Using the word ‘self-deportation’ — it’s a horrific comment to make. I don’t think it has anything to do with our party. When someone makes those comments, obviously, it’s racist.”
The article has since added a correction. The new version:
“Using the word ‘self-deportation’ — it’s a horrific comment to make. I don’t think it has anything to do with our party. When a candidate makes those comments, obviously, it hurts us.”
As msnbc noted in its initial report on his comments, Priebus has been working hard to push the party to the center on immigration ever since President Obama dominated the Hispanic vote in November. That said, even without the “racist” line, his decision to single out Romney as “horrific” is still delicate territory.
“Self deportation” was actually a pretty accurate description of Romney’s preferred policy as championed by Republican officials like Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Their position was that if you pass state and federal laws to make life difficult for undocumented immigrants, then hopefully they’ll leave.
Here’s where Priebus really runs into trouble. If Romney’s position was “horrific” in 2012, so was practically the entire Republican Party. Romney’s position was such standard fare at the time that it made it into the RNC’s party platform—you know, the platform Priebus oversaw as chairman. That document not only included repeated denunciations of “amnesty” but also this nugget:
We will create humane procedures to encourage illegal aliens to return home voluntarily, while enforcing the law against those who overstay their visas.
State efforts to reduce illegal immigration must be encouraged, not attacked. The pending Department of Justice lawsuits against Arizona, Alabama, South Carolina, and Utah must be dismissed immediately. The double-layered fencing on the border that was enacted by Congress in 2006, but never completed, must finally be built. In order to restore the rule of law, federal funding should be denied to sanctuary cities that violate federal law and endanger their own citizens, and federal funding should be denied to universities that provide in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens, in open defiance of federal law.
Priebus is trying hard to move the party past this position and his latest comments represents a huge gamble that he’ll succeed. After all, there’s a good chance that immigration reform fails in the House. There’s an even better chance that some Republican presidential candidates will run on an enforcement-focused platform akin to Romney. If that happens, will their campaigns be decried as “horrific” as well?