The Romney campaign has been running a pretty tight ship over the last few weeks, but they stumbled today on immigration. Asked by reporters to describe Romney's views on the Supreme Court's decision in Arizona v. United States, a campaign spokesman went 'round and 'round in circles, saying essentially nothing at all. A portion of the cringe-worthy transcript:
QUESTION: What is his position on the actual law in Arizona?
GORKA: "Again, each state has the right within the Constitution to craft their own immigration laws since the federal government has failed."
QUESTION: But does he think about the law in Arizona? You're just talking about the states right to have a law but you're not giving any position on the actual law.
GORKA: "Ultimately this debate comes back down to the federal government and the president failing to address this. If the president followed through on his campaign promise to address illegal immigration in the first year, this debate wouldn¹t be necessary."
QUESTION: Is it fair to say that he has no opinion on the Arizona law?
GORKA: "Look, again, I¹ll say it again and again and again for you. The governor understands that states have their own right to craft policies to secure their own borders and to address illegal immigration."
QUESTION: You're not answering – what does he think about the policy in Arizona? Is it fair to say he has no opinion? You're refusing to give us an answer.
And so it went. File this under the category of "if you don't have anything of substance to say, keep your mouth shut." The decision came down mid-morning, so it would have been completely reasonable for Romney's campaign to decline to comment for a period of time. (The president gave a 37-minute stump speech in New Hampshire this afternoon that did not mention the decision at all). It's a somewhat messy ruling that allows both sides to claim some semblance of victory, so why not delay attempting an in-depth, comprehensive response until you have one? There is no reason why the press is entitled to Romney's opinion on this matter right this very second. His spokesman could have simply said, "Governor Romney and his legal advisers are looking at the decision closely, and we will have a reaction once that review is complete." Instead, he chose to engage with reporters half-cocked, which instantly produced the memorable and ugly exchange excerpted above. Sure, the media would have dinged Team Romney for dragging its feet a little, but voters wouldn't care one wit about that line of criticism. Instead, Romneyworld subjected themselves to a feeding frenzy that made the candidate look simultaneously unprepared and slippery. Peter Suderman summarized it nicely: "Romney's position...is perfectly clear: He would have one, and President Obama is wrong." That's not acceptable. In a Twitter exchange with ABC News' Rick Klein, I argued that it is generally a wise strategy for Romney to refuse to get sucked down every rabbit hole the Obama campaign and their media allies will present as a means to avoid talking about the economy and the incumbent's record. Nevertheless, it's not too much to ask Team Romney to offer a coherent and at least somewhat detailed response to a significant Supreme Court decision. Romney himself is a Harvard Law grad -- he's certainly capable of forming a cogent response to today's ruling. Gorka's tangled web makes it look like he doesn't want to do so, which reinforces one of the (partially earned) knocks on Romney. By going the evasive route, Team Romney has guaranteed itself at least one cycle of negative coverage. And they deserve it.
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