President Obama: Pot-stirrer

Whatever you want to say about President Obama, you have to give him some credit for one thing: He’s not afraid to stir the pot in the runup to the 2012 election.


President Obama speaks at a campaign event at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio, on Thursday. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

To the skeptic, all three decisions will seem politically motivated. But as with the first two, it’s not exactly clear just who the illegal immigration decision will wind up benefitting.

About the only thing that’s clear is that a can of worms has been opened.

One thing is abundantly clear: The decision certainly puts Mitt Romney and the Republican Party in a tough spot when it comes to wooing the Latino vote.

Republicans are already struggling mightily when it comes to this fast-growing demographic, and now the Obama administration has done something that should be very popular with Latinos, whose leadership has been pushing for this move for a long time.

Romney will now have to make a tough decision about whether to support the move. Illegal immigration is highly unpopular in conservative circles, to be sure, but the calculus changes for some in the middle when it comes to children who were brought to this country illegally by their parents.

(If you want a good example of the GOP’s struggles with the issue of young illegal immigrants, look no further than the DREAM Act debate in recent months.)

Adding to the equation is the fact that Romney has staked out some very conservative ground on the issue of illegal immigration, most notably his plan for so-called “self-deportation” that even some Republicans have balked at. Given that backdrop, this isn’t an easy call for him.

Conversely, we have to wonder what effect this has on staunch opponents of illegal immigration — many of whom are independents.

After all, despite the fact that we’re talking about young illegal immigrants, we’re still talking about illegal immigrants, and we’re still talking about something that can be labeled a form of “amnesty.”

Polling on this issue is all over the map, depending on how you ask the question, but a recent CNN/Opinion Research poll has some good insights.

In that poll, respondents were asked whether the U.S. government should focus on allowing illegal immigrants to become U.S. citizens, or stop the flow of illegal immigrants and deport those who are here.

Among independents, 54 percent said they favored the latter approach — a reflection of the fact that Americans aren’t opposed to deportation.

Another recent poll, though, shows that Obama’s decision could be construed as broadly popular. The CBS/New York Times poll showed that, given a trio of options, nearly two-thirds of Americans wanted to either provide a path to citizenship or allow the illegal immigrants to stay as guest workers. Just 32 percent said they should be required to leave the country.

In the end, this harkens back to both the president’s contraception and gay marriage decisions. All three moves are going to irritate conservatives, who were already irritated by the president, while earning plaudits from people who were already likely to support Obama.

The question will be how the middle sees it, and whether it spurs big Latino turnout for Obama.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.

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