RNC official Bettina Inclán fumbles immigration message
Bettina Inclán and Mitt Romney in 2007.
By JORDAN FABIAN
The Republican National Committee on Tuesday was forced to walk back a statement made by a key official that the party’s presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney hasn’t formed his position on immigration.
The fumble was made at a press event in Washington designed to roll out the committee’s six new Hispanic outreach coordinators stationed in key battleground states. The gaffe threatened to overshadow the GOP’s message Tuesday that it’s repairing its relationship with Latino voters.
Asked by a reporter how Republicans would respond to Latino voters who have been turned off by the immigration rhetoric of some in the party, RNC Hispanic Outreach Director Bettina Inclán said that Romney hadn’t yet nailed down his stance on the issue.
“As a candidate, to my understanding, he’s still deciding what his position on immigration is,” Inclán responded.
Inclán’s comment appeared to play into one of the strongest criticisms of Romney: that his positions on the issues are too flexible.
RNC spokesperson Kirsten Kukowski, seated just a few feet away from Inclán, interjected minutes later, claiming that’s not what she meant to say.
“We never said the governor hasn’t decided on immigration,” she said.
Kukowski added that the Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee are just beginning to integrate their efforts and explained that the RNC is not directly responsible for setting policy, and that its focus is on political activity. She said any questions on Romney’s position should be directed at his campaign.
“Right now what we are here to talk about is what our outreach effort is going to be,” she said.
Inclán backtracked on Twitter, saying that the focus should be on President Obama’s record on the economy and immigration.
I misspoke, Romney’s position on immigration is clear mi.tt/KiMi3x— Bettina Inclan (@BettinaInclan) May 8, 2012
Why don’t we talk about the real issue at hand, Obama’s policies have failed the Hispanic community bit.ly/Iyco2D— Bettina Inclan (@BettinaInclan) May 8, 2012
Still, the Obama campaign pounced, saying that it will be tough for Romney to avoid his past statements endorsing a strict approach to immigration, such as his support for attrition via enforcement, or “self-deportation.”
“His position may be inconvenient but it has been clear,” said Obama campaign Hispanic spokesperson Gabriela Domenzain. “Mitt Romney has decided to be the most extreme presidential candidate on immigration. Hispanics and all Americans have heard it loud and clear.”
Romney, who trails Obama by nearly 40 points among Latino voters, backed a tough immigration enforcement model during the primaries, which many observers said turned off many Latinos to his campaign. In addition to his support for self-deportation, Romney praised Arizona’s controversial immigration crackdown law and said he would veto the DREAM Act as currently written.
Recently, though, Romney has indicated he is open to backing a proposal by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio that would provide legal status for some undocumented minors. That proposal is akin to a pared-down version of the DREAM Act.
But at the briefing, Inclán said that the Republicans seek to center their message around the economy and jobs, which are the number one voting issues for Latinos and non-Latinos alike.
“To assume that the only thing we [Latinos] care about is immigration … is almost insulting,” Inclán said.
But as Tuesday’s incident showed, the sensitive issue of immigration is still one that the GOP is struggling to grapple with.