WASHINGTON — In the summer of 2011, as then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry was preparing to announce his run for the Republican presidential nomination, top aides to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney set about figuring out how to beat him.
They found a potential weak spot: immigration. Perry had expressed some views, such as supporting in-state tuition for certain undocumented immigrants and opposing a border fence, that polled poorly with the GOP base. Although Romney hadn’t planned to make immigration a major campaign issue, some aides thought that taking a tougher stance could help his numbers, a former staffer said.
Romney went after Perry over the in-state tuition law, accusing him of creating a magnet for illegal immigration. Perry didn’t end up being the threat the Romney campaign thought he was, and he dropped out of the race. But Romney kept up his hard-liner stance. He infamously said he was in favor of “self-deportation” — that is, making life so hard for undocumented immigrants that they would leave the U.S. voluntarily.
In hindsight, Romney’s tough talk on immigration appears to have been a mistake.
Romney eventually won his party’s nomination. But he lost the general election to President Barack Obama — a loss partially attributed to the fact that Romney picked up only 27 percent of the Latino vote. “Self-deportation” became shorthand for the type of rhetoric that drives away Latino voters.