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RNC chair says Romney’s ‘self-deportation’ was ‘racist.’ This could be a problem.

Reince Priebus has been working hard to push the party to the center on immigration ever since President Obama dominated the Hispanic vote in November. But his latest comments put him on dangerous ground.
/ Source: hardball

Reince Priebus has been working hard to push the party to the center on immigration ever since President Obama dominated the Hispanic vote in November. But his latest comments put him on dangerous ground.

Immigration detainees from Honduras arrive by bus to board a deportation flight to San Pedro Sula, Honduras on February 28, 2013 in Mesa, Arizona. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), operates 4-5 flights per week from Mesa to Central America, deporting hundreds of undocumented immigrants detained in western states of the U.S. With the possibility of federal budget sequestration, ICE released 303 immigration detainees in the last week from detention centers throughout Arizona. More than 2,000 immigration detainees remain in ICE custody in the state. Most of them will be scheduled for deportation within weeks, while others remain for longer periods while their immigration cases work through the courts. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

RNC chairman Reince Priebus offered the most far-reaching denunciation yet of Mitt Romney’s immigration position, labeling it “racist.”

“Using the word ‘self-deportation’ — it’s a horrific comment to make,” Priebus told reporters, according to Business Insider. “I don’t think it has anything to do with our party. When someone makes those comments, obviously, it’s racist.”

Priebus has been working hard to push the party to the center on immigration ever since President Obama dominated the Hispanic vote in November. But his latest comments put him on dangerous ground.

For one thing, there’s nothing obviously “racist” about the phrase “self-deportation” itself. It 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. You might disagree with the policy, but there’s nothing explicitly racial in Romney’s description of it.

But here’s where Priebus really runs into trouble. If Romney was “racist” 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 “racist” claim 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. When that happens, will their campaigns be “racist” too?