Hispanics -- and some fairly important ones at that -- were looking for answers. Mitt gave them a song and dance. That could hurt him with a lot more than Latinos.
Maybe we shouldn't be surprised. Romney had been ducking and dodging since President Obama announced he was halting the deportations of some 800,000 young undocumented immigrants through an executive order. It was, in effect, a "stopgap" DREAM Act, which would allow them to stay, study, and work.
It would not make them citizens. And, even though it sounds almost exactly like the plan the man Romney said he is considering for vice president has said he was going to propose, Romney bashed President Obama for doing it. His complaint: It was "temporary" because it can be overturned by the next president (um, Romney?).
We need a "long-term solution," he said.
So, what exactly would Mitt do?
That's what the gathered group at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials were hoping to hear Thursday when Romney spoke to them.
They were disappointed.
Romney was long on words, but short on specifics.
"Some people have asked if I will let stand the President's executive action. The answer is that I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the President's temporary measure."
He said he wants to end the "red tape" for people trying to come here "the right way."
The Fine Print: Undocumented immigrants and their children, the ones who would benefit from the DREAM Act, and from the president's "stopgap" executive order, would still have to "self- deport." They didn't come here "the right way."
Romney also said he wants to "reallocate Green Cards" to "exempt from caps the spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents. And we will eliminate other forms of bureaucratic red tape that keep families from being together."
The Fine Print: For people who are married to a legal resident, or are the children of one, things would stay pretty much as they are now. The law already allows them to stay here if they're here, or to come here if they're not.
"And," Romney said, "if you get an advanced degree here, we want you to stay here -- so we will staple a green card to your diploma."
The Fine Print: That's one heck of a big "if." He didn't say he would let students stay here to complete their degree. That's what President Obama is offering. Romney said, "if" they can get their diploma without getting caught and kicked out, he'll give them a green card.
Finally, Romney repeated the flip-flop he pulled in Florida in January. Before that, he vowed to veto the DREAM Act if it ever came before him. All of it. During a debate in Florida, he suddenly said he would allow the children of undocumented immigrants to become citizens if they completed two years of military service.
He said the same again Thursday to the folks at NALEO.
The general reaction could have been expected. He got blasted by the usual folks.
"At NALEO, Mitt Romney's speech perfectly summarized what he has to offer Latinos: nothing," Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, a vocal Democrat from Obama's home state, Illinois, said in a statement following the speech. "No amount of evasive rhetoric and vague pleasantries will hide the basic fact that Mitt Romney won't stand up for the Dream Act, supports Arizona's discriminatory, anti-immigrant laws and believes immigrants should 'self-deport.'"
Romney also got panned by some fresh faces.
Dr. Irella Perez, a school administrator from California told the Washington Post she was "very concerned that when he speaks of immigration, he generalizes. I think that being at a Latino conference, he didn't specify what he would do for Latino immigrants, and I'm concerned with his overall generalization of his comments."
It's pretty clear Romney doesn't want to be specific, and that could hurt him with Latinos. But avoiding a clear statement may also damage him further with skeptical conservatives who are a little suspicious of a man they see as a moderate from Massachusetts.
As nationally syndicated talk-radio host Steve Deace put it to the Chicago Tribune:
"Anger is beginning toward Mitt Romney on the lack of leadership he has shown on the issue. Conservatives are beginning to think that the people who run both parties are really the same."
Source: Terra/Carlos Harrison