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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Immigration and the GOP: Kaboom!

The immigration deal cut last week by the White House and key Senate leaders will probably have the votes to get through the Senate, unless there’s a full-scale Democratic revolt against the size of the obnoxious “guest worker” program. But I tell you what is absolutely clear: this deal is rapidly becoming a toxic, divisive problem for Republicans, potentially as large as divisions over the Iraq War among Democrats in the not-so-distant past. If you don’t believe me, go spend some time over at the National Review site, where the deal and its Republican supporters are being savaged in increasingly intemperate terms. Aside from a very angry editorial and several columns, over at The Corner, NR’s internal blog, they’ve been discussing little else from the moment the deal was announced. There we learn that over this weekend, pro-deal Republican senators Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and Saxby Chambliss of GA were lustily booed at Republican Conventions in their states. We read comparisons of pro-deal GOPers to the leaders of Vichy France. And over and over, we’re told that the deal will decimate Senate Republican prospects in 2008, and perhaps bring down the whole ticket. NR’s not alone in this extreme assessment. In his broadcast yesterday, Rush Limbaugh called the deal the “Comprehensive Destroy the Republican Party Act.”In terms of the presidential nominating contest, all this angst is mainly bad news for John McCain, whose support for this deal compounds conservative heartburn over his cosponsorship of the earlier deal that passed the Senate. The only good thing for McCain is that the latest bill is being referred to as “Kennedy-Bush,” not “Kennedy-McCain II,” though that may be temporary. But the immediate and certain-to-grow exploitation of this issue by McCain’s rivals will make immigration front-and-center in Republican politics in a way that the Arizonan probably won’t be able to survive. Already, Mitt Romney’s running anti-immigration-deal ads. Fred Thompson’s done a radio commentary calling for it to be scrapped. The candidate in the most delicate position is probably Rudy Guiliani, who’s been trying to reposition himself on immigration by saying he wouldn’t support any deal that didn’t include a national database of illegal immigrants, but whose long record of pro-immigration comments in New York, arguably to the left of most Democrats, will not go away. Given the fact that even those Democrats who may grudgingly support the immigration deal don’t particularly like it, it’s almost certain that the growing furor will even further depress Bush’s approval ratings, perhaps dramatically. And at the risk of beating a dead horse, that means John McCain will be strongly identified with Bush’s two most controversial policies: the Iraq surge, and this immigration deal. If he’s not toast at this point, he’s surely getting a bit crispy.

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