4 reasons the GOP is wary of attacking Obama's immigration overhaul

After the president does an end run around Congress, many of his opponents offer only muted critiques of his election-year power play. Why?

Mitt Romney, with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in Troy, Ohio
(Image credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

On Friday, President Obama dropped an election-year bombshell — opting to halt deportations of many illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. But though some on the Right have derided Obama — saying he unfairly dodged Congress to cynically court Latino votes — most Republicans have countered Obama's executive action with a relatively "muted" backlash. Even GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who took a hardline stance on immigration in the primary campaign, stopped short of declaring he would repeal the policy if elected, saying only that he would look at it while seeking a long-term solution. Why aren't Republicans criticizing Obama more aggressively? Here, four theories:

1. Marco Rubio provides political cover

It's not in Romney's interest to come out breathing fire and promising to rescind this move, says Allahpundit at Hot Air. After all, Obama's idea was essentially originally proposed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a "conservative rock star" whose support of such a policy — though not Obama's executive action — gives Romney ample political cover with the party's base.

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2. Obama took them by surprise — and has sent them back to the drawing board

Obama scored a "political double whammy," says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post, showing Latino immigrants that he's "looking out for them" while simultaneously putting the GOP in a tight spot, stuck between far-right voters and the Latinos Romney hopes to woo. By getting out in front of this issue, says Richard Cowan at Reuters, Obama "all but killed a Republican effort to fashion legislation that could have won political points with Hispanic voters in November's elections." With a stroke of the pen, Obama made moot the proposal that Rubio and others had been working on for months behind the scenes. Now Romney and Co. need time to come up with a new plan. Or, as a Rubio spokesman put it: "We're re-evaluating our next steps."

3. The GOP wants to sweep this issue under the rug

Obama won two-thirds of the Latino vote in 2008, says Matt Taylor at Slate, but now, many of those voters are disheartened by Obama's failure to deliver the wholesale immigration reform he promised. Of course, easing up on deportations will help make up for that. Romney's campaign seems to know it's not going to win over Latino voters, and has largely concentrated on urging them to be "depressed or upset with the Obama administration" so they won't bother going to the polls at all. The last thing Romney wants to do is call attention to a policy Obama is using to remind Hispanic voters that he "can deliver tangible goods."

4. Romney needs to stay focused on jobs

"Romney is the play-it-safe candidate," says Charles Babington of The Associated Press, "rarely straying from his jobs-and-economy talking points." Obama's move on immigration changed the subject. Romney's "carefully worded" criticism of Obama for failing to come up with "a long-term solution" is probably all he wants to say on the subject. He's surely eager to get back to his central theme, which is "jobs, jobs, jobs."

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