NOW with Alex Wagner | June 18, 2012
>>> the magical myth-stry tour is rolling into wisconsin today with paul ryan along for the ride. if the romney campaign was looking to be a headlining act, are they disappointed that president obama 's solo performance on immigration is still center stage ? it is monday, june 18th and this is "now." joining me today live from washington, d.c., msnbc political analyst , richard wolffe . politico executive editor, jim vandehei , melinda hennenberg and john chait . this is day four of the every town counts romney bus tour and he has so far made nine stops in four states. but is every town really counting? their campaign is having a hard time getting out of the shadow of president obama 's announcement on immigration. in wisconsin this morning, romney spoke alongside congressman paul ryan , and governor scott walker . he said the president is creating distractions to hide his record.
>> because of his failed record, his campaign's having a hard time deciding what to talk about, because they'd like to talk about the economy and they'd like to talk about his record, but you know, they know the last time his campaign slogan was hope and change. this time they're going with we hope to change the subject.
>> it is not often that we get jim vandehei in the flesh and not on a remote cam in the politico offices. it's a great day in america. i will go to you first with this. the immigration announcement seemed to have knocked team romney off course. what do you think they need to do right now?
>> well, you see two very different campaigns here. you have one, all mitt romney wants to talk about is the economy. it's one size fits all for every single state. what president obama wants to do is basically look at the 12 states that matter, slice and dice the electorate and each week go after a little segment of that. that's why the obama campaign 's been frustrated with all our punditry saying they're not running a very good campaign. they think they are on the ground. they think they are with the specific demographics. we saw it resonate i think pretty powerfully with the announcement on immigration. it clearly got the coverage they wanted it to get. they put romney in a box on this issue. does mitt romney care? i think what romney cares about is the economy looking sour and headed south and if so, he thinks he will win election regardless of the day-to-day stuff.
>> it was interesting when scott walker on this sort of magical mitt-stry tour, i can't get enough of that, walker clarified romney 's assessment of the recall, saying he didn't want to fire teachers and policemen and firefighters and also said that romney quote, needs a vision and quote, a message, richard wolffe , which is not exactly what you want to hear. we know romney has a surrogate problem but that's not the greatest message to be hearing over the weekend and during --
>> this is a governor who is -- who just got a new lease of life in a state where president obama remains popular, right? also, the economic messages don't match up. if you go to a place like ohio as they have been on this tour, unempl it's now lower than the national average, lower than it was in january '09 when obama took office. so the economy is terrible message, doesn't really resonate in these places. that's an irony when you're thinking about the rust belt , traditionally, and also where you have strong energy jobs. whenever you hear candidates debating a message or slogans, they're really not dealing with their own substance. it's too processy. we make talk about this here, but you don't want the candidate to engage in political strategy, at least not on a podium. i think that's actually a sign of where mitt romney is himself off his game.
>> let's talk, let's do a deeper dive into mitt romney 's response on immigration. he had a sort of semi-awkward interview with bob schieffer where he sort of treaded this weird line, saying i don't know if -- i wouldn't repeal the president's decision because my policy, whatever that may be, would already account for it. how do you think he handled it, melinda ?
>> poorly. i think it's really interesting that he's sort of saying well, but this is all about politics. sure, everything that happens now is politics now and always, but i mean, he had the hispanic vote locked up thanks to the republican primary season, so did he have to do this? no, he really didn't. look at the numbers of hispanic voters and then romney says well, this is very little, this is very late, he refuses to say that he would be doing anything differently than this policy. so it's sort of like that old joke about the food is terrible and the portions are so small.
>> right. jonathan, melinda refers to the latest poll numbers show obama at 67% among hispanics , romney at 24%. i want to play some commentary from george will talking about the gop's hispanic problem. let's take a listen.
>> they spent the primary season competing to see who could build the longest, thickest, tallest, most lethally electrified fence, and hispanics listening to this detected hostility. they're funny that way. and so romney has a big hole to dig out of because if he gets under, say, the 31% of hispanic voters that mccain got, he's going to lose.
>> there you have it. if he gets under 31%, he's going to lose. so how closely is the romney team listening to that message?
>> i think they are listening to it but i disagree a little bit. i think obama does have a problem with turnout and enthusiasm with latino vote, because obama ran on passing the dream act , right, comprehensive immigration reform failed under bush. he said okay, here's a half loaf or quarter loaf bill, the dream act , that would at least help the most sympathetic people that we can help with this. that didn't pass either republicans killed it along with a tiny handful of conservative democrats . romney 's plan was to basically blame this on obama , saying obama didn't pass the bill, basically republicans kill it, you vote against obama or don't vote for obama , so i do think they had an enthusiasm problem. polls showed latino voters were less likely to say they were excited.
>> we know that every monday, there's sort of a flurry in the newsroom until 10:00 when we find out the supreme court is going to hand out a decision. we know the arizona immigration law that's going to come down soon, how do you think that in combination with this position, this announcement on friday, plays out for the president in terms of either drumming up enthusiasm or dampening it?
>> i think he has a major enthusiasm problem. let's face it, our politics today are extremely segregated. he needs to win 90% of african-americans, 70% of hispanics to offset the fact he might only win 35% of whites. that's how they're looking at this electorate. they have to go out there and make sure they don't give romney any room to fix what were huge mistakes, if you're thinking about broadening the appeal of the republican party , huge mistakes he made during the republican primary . he went so far right, further than he had to go certainly in his rhetoric on immigration. that's why a lot of republicans are concerned. i think you hit it on the head when you talked about scott walker 's comments about the message, because the big frustration that almost every republican has with mitt romney , if you talk to them, is that there's got to be more there. you can't just be hoping for obama to be bad and the economy to be bad. you have to say something optimistic. walker had success in wisconsin not just through hope. he did it by doing something extremely bold and now conservatives are saying hey, we want that from you, mitt, show us something bold.
>> what about the counter argument that they sort of floated out, which is this is an executive overreach. rick santorum , let's play what rick santorum said this weekend regarding the president and an unabashed abuse of power .
>> he's trying to walk a line not to sound like he's hostile to latinos and you know, and very important states, but at the same time, i think you need to hammer the president on this now habitual abuse of power .
>> so richard, okay, is this a habitual abuse of power ? we did a little data digging and this is president obama 's bypass. in february of last year, the justice department halted defense of the defense of marriage act . in august last year, the education department overrode no child left behind . in august of that year as well, justice department halts deportation of those in legal same sex marriages and in december, the justice department reinterpreted the law to legalize online poker which is not necessarily the same sort of bid -- i don't know, poker players, you probably want to lock down those votes. does anyone buy that this is an abuse of power ? is that a winning message out of this friday announcement?
>> not really. look, if rick santorum is the guy talking about overreach, then we're all in trouble. here's a guy who overreached consistently in his campaign, never seemed to stop him. the problem for mitt romney is that not only, he actually did take positions. it wasn't just his rhetoric. he said he would veto the dream act , he said he was -- he went to the right of newt gingrich and when you come down to this position, you can't take a position. he actually cannot say, if you really look at the words he actually used, there is no position. he won't say which way he stands, which way he would go on what the president has done or what he would do. marco rubio had his own proposal on the dream act which never made it to a piece of legislation, was never actually drafted. so republicans don't really have a position right now. for the president to follow through at least in part on something that he has said explicitly that he wanted to see happen, that house democrats passed, is not outrageous and is only a temporary measure. the next president can reverse it in a heartbeat. it's hardly an expansion of executive power . previous presidents have done it.
>> i think here's a recent example of how to do it. george w. bush , the first time he ran, did it extremely well. he dealt with latino voters in texas, took it to the national stage, won 40% plus of the vote, won the election. it's not rocket science . there's an obvious formula to use.
>> how are you not going to bypass congress when congress won't do anything? really the only option left for him is to act.
>> it's impossible to share power anymore. congress can stop obama from passing a bill, stop him from appointing people he needs to appoint. the only thing he can do is do power unilaterally. so shared power is collapsing. the only kind of power is all or nothing, essentially. that's all that's left.
>> curious to note the center for american progress outlined this strategy in a memo that was put out last year saying increase the use of unilateral power because you ain't