Mitt Romney may have moved west, but his political evolution continues toward the right.
The former Massachusetts governor, now running for U.S. Senate in his new home state of Utah, told a crowd at a local campaign event Monday that he’s actually more conservative on some issues than President Donald Trump — including immigration, which has been the hardline Republican president’s hallmark issue.
Amid the skepticism of Romney’s candidacy from some far-right factions of Utah’s Republican Party, the two-time presidential candidate was asked by an audience member Monday whether — and, if so, how — he considers himself a conservative, according to the Provo-based Daily Herald.
Romney responded first by saying he was a “a deficit hawk,” making him “more conservative than a lot of Republicans and a lot of Democrats.”
“I’m also more of a hawk on immigration than even the president,” he continued. “My view was these DACA kids shouldn’t all be allowed to stay in the country legally.”
Trump moved last fall to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which offers temporary protection from deportation for young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, as long as they meet certain requirements. Federal courts ruled Trump’s order unconstitutional, allowing DACA recipients already in the program to renew their protections, though the government has stopped accepting new applications.
Trump had proposed a deal providing a pathway to citizenship for the 1.8 million DACA-eligible immigrants in the country in exchange for funding for his proposed Mexican border wall and other major immigration concessions from Democrats. However, the two sides have yet to reach to an agreement.
Romney said Monday he disagreed with the original decision to allow those 1.8 million people to stay in the country. The 71-year-old Republican said the so-called dreamers “needed to do more” to justify legal residency, such as going to college, the military, or becoming a teacher. However, he suggested that, unlike Trump, he wouldn’t have offered a deal allowing them to become citizens.
“Now I will accept the president’s view on this,” Romney said, according to his campaign. “Although for me, I draw the line and say, those who’ve come illegally should not be given a special path to citizenship.”
That wasn’t always the case.
As his party’s 2012 presidential nominee, Romney said he believed that young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children “should have the chance to become permanent residents, and eventually citizens, by serving honorably in the United States military.”
For clarity of his current stance, Romney’s campaign referred Tuesday to the Intent to Run notice he filed with the Utah Republican Party earlier this month, in which Romney says he supports legal status for DACA recipients, but not a “special pathway to citizenship.”
In a statement Tuesday, a Romney campaign spokesperson said “circumstances have changed” since 2012.
“President Obama enacted DACA and Gov. Romney believes the commitment made by President Obama should be honored,” the statement said. “Therefore, he agrees with President Trump’s proposal to allow DACA recipients to legally stay in the country but does not support a special pathway to citizenship.”
In an interview last month with the Salt Lake Tribune, Romney said that as much as he welcomes legal immigrants to the United States, he is “pretty hard on stopping illegal immigration,” adding that he has been “more conservative on that than most Republicans.” Indeed, his 2012 immigration plan called for a “high-tech” border fence, among other border security measures. In his interview with the Tribune, he concurred with Trump that the country needs a “border fence or wall or whatever you want to call it.”
“I also agree with the president that we should stop the chain migration approach that immigration has taken,” Romney said. “And I think he’s right about this lottery program. But I don’t think we’re far apart on immigration. That’s probably a part of where I’m more conservative than most.”
Trump endorsed Romney in his Senate race last month.