McCain v Romney, Maybe, on Immigration

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Michael Cooper has Michael Cooper and Marc Santora have a piece in the Times today previewing the same McCain speech I did, though he frames it more explicitly as a knock on Romney. McCain himself denies that the paragraph or two he devotes to his unnamed rivals was intended to knock on Romney; he, correctly, points out that none of his competitors have offered alternative immigration proposals, they’ve simply knocked his. So this supposedly applies to all of them:

In his speech, McCain took a careful shot at his fellow candidates critical of the measure, asserting that those who reject his compromise, “especially if they are a candidate for President…should have the responsibility and courage to propose another way.” He added pointedly: “To want the office so badly that you would intentionally make our country’s problems worse might prove you can read a poll or take a cheap shot, but it hardly demonstrates presidential leadership.

In my piece, I let McCain’s statement stand at face value — I’ve written enough about the sniping between the two camps, I thought, and since McCain answered a direct question directly, I saw no reason to try and knock it down.

But Romney seems to have interpreted McCain’s remarks as being targeted at him, even if McCain didn’t. His spokesman sent out a statement just now that apparently intends to prove that Romney’s criticism is not empty carping but thoughtful and constructive:

“In reforming our immigration system, we must meet three priorities. First, we can and must secure our borders. Second, our country must have an enforceable employment verification system. Third, in reforming our immigration system, we must do so in a way that rewards immigrants who obey the laws and guards against providing special incentives for those who show no regard for them.”

These three points could well describe the current legislation. I’m not saying that Romney doesn’t have substantive criticism, but he still hasn’t made a case for what he’d do differently.

This is precisely what’s annoyed McCain and his staff about the guy; we’ll see if their response to this betrays any particular animus.

UPDATE: Thanks for catch, Crust.