Thursday, March 22, 2007

as you sow . . .

Conservative politicians and pundits, by convincing voters across the country in recent election campaigns that illegal immigrants are committing crimes, using up public services, and stealing their social security, have put Republican presidential candidates in a difficult position vis-à-vis conservative voters furious about government inaction on illegal immigration. From the NY Times:

On Saturday morning in Des Moines, Mr. Brownback stood for 30 minutes at a breakfast with Republicans as question after question — without exception — was directed at an immigration system that Iowans denounced as failing. “These people are stealing from us,” said Larry Smith, a factory owner from Truro and a member of the central committee of the state Republican Party.

Finally, Mr. Brownback, with a slight smile, inquired, “Any other topics that people want to talk about?”

“What are you going to do with illegal immigrants who come here and become criminals?” demanded Jodi Wohlenhaus, a Republican homemaker who lives outside Des Moines.

. . .

Other Republicans said they thought Mr. McCain’s identification with the push for easing immigration laws could prove to be among his greatest vulnerabilities. “Senator McCain will be hurt badly if he continues to support a bill like last time,” said Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama. “I think he’ll have a hard time defending that piece of legislation. I think it would be important for him to demonstrate that his position on immigration is not defined by the bill that he introduced last time.”

Nowhere does that appear to be more the case than [Iowa], a state crucial to Mr. McCain’s hopes of winning his party’s nomination. A front-page article in The Des Moines Register after the first day of Mr. McCain’s bus trip here focused on his defending his efforts on changing immigration laws.

Mr. Smith, the Republican Party central committee member, said Mr. McCain’s views on immigration had eliminated him as a contender in the view of many state Republicans.

“I have a hard time appreciating McCain’s position at all on this issue,” Mr. Smith said. “I feel he’s been extremely weak.”

“When I go county to county visiting 29 counties in my area, I believe almost without exception that immigration is that issue that puts fire in their eyes,” he said. “They just really are livid that we have allowed this to happen to the point it has.”

Mr. Brownback was reminded of that throughout the day on Saturday, including during his march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade up Locust Avenue in Des Moines. “We need to build a fence,” Mike Clark, 38, a pig farmer, told Mr. Brownback as he walked alongside him. “We need to get them stopped.”

Of the major Republican candidates, it appears that Romney is the only one in tune with Republican voters on this issue. But even he only came to this position recently. Republican candidates find themselves sandwiched between the pro-immigration business community and anti-immigration voters. Bluster on the campaign stump followed by a nod and wink to the business community is not going to work any longer. I am worried that this means we will not be getting comprehensive immigration reform this year and certainly not next when campaigns are in full swing. For any bill at all, we may have to wait for a Democratic president and a solidly Democratic Senate, and even then I’m not sure we’ll get anything decent.

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