If the candidate's vague, awkward responses to President Obama's immigration order weren't indication enough, that Mitt Romney's campaign abruptly ended a conference call today after reporters kept asking about the issue makes clear just how desperate they are to steer the discussion back to the economy:
The conference call was set up to focus on the economy and knock President Obama's comment that the private sector was "doing fine."
But reporters wanted to ask about immigration.
Romney aides repeatedly urged reporters to restrict their questions to economic topics.
“Gov. Romney is speaking at NALEO tomorrow, and will have a few more things there to say about immigration," said Romney policy director Lanhee Chen, referring to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials annual conference in Orlando, Fla.
Romney will address the attendees tomorrow, while President Obama is scheduled to speak Friday.
Asked again about immigration, Chen contended that "the one thing we ought to focus on with immigration" was "how the economy has failed the Latino community."
After reporters did not oblige, the Romney campaign cut off the call.
"We don’t have any more questions on today’s topic," a Romney aide said.
Expect more of this dance going forward, as every day the campaign isn't focused on weak jobs numbers and other lagging economic indicators is a good one for Barack Obama.
That being said, some in the GOP express grudging admiration for what one veteran operative called Obama's "clever" pivot to immigration, and they wish Romney would find some way to talk about the issue -- if only because an "It's the economy, stupid!" strategy is less viable today than it was when Bill Clinton employed it in 1992. Then, working class whites comprised a much larger proportion of the electorate.
"It's pretty clear from Team Romney's muddled response to Obama's immigration proposal that Republicans have managed to handcuff themselves on an issue of vital importance to a constituency that may decide the election," says Mark McKinnon, the Republican strategist who helmed both of George W. Bush's presidential campaigns. Many in Bush's orbit -- including Karl Rove -- have been insisting for years now that the party be more hospitable to Hispanics, who until recently were the fastest growing demographic group in the country.