McCain’s Second U-Turn on Immigration Reform

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In what appears to be a clear signal that Sen. John McCain feels he has secured as much of the conservative base vote that he can for the general election, the candidate seems to have doubled back again on the question of comprehensive immigration reform. During the early, heated portion of the Republican primary McCain found himself in big trouble with the conservative base over this issue, leading him to issue a statement saying that he had heard the voices of concern and, “I say it is a lesson learned about what the American people’s priorities are. And their priority is to secure the borders.” This position has been repeated as recently as last month.

So, it was troubling to some of his supporters when he appeared yesterday at a meeting of business leaders in San Jose, California and said the following:

I believe we have to secure our borders, and I think most Americans agree with that, because it’s a matter of national security. But we must enact comprehensive immigration reform. We must make it a top agenda item if we don’t do it before, and we probably won’t, a little straight talk, as of January 2009.”

Mr. McCain asked others on the panels for suggestions about how to “better mobilize American public opinion” behind the notion of comprehensive immigration reform.

If the Senator plans to secure the borders before addressing comprehensive immigration reform, and he plans to do that in January of next year, that would appear to give him about eight days to lock down our borders. No small feat to pull off. (Pardon my snark.)

The reaction to this from the conservative base was rapid and predictable. Prominent Right wing blogger John Hawkins wasted no time in penning a proclamation: Why I Will No Longer Support John McCain for President. There are lots of campaign quotes and background material in there (so “read the whole thing” please) but here’s the hammer blow from the end.

Put very simply; John McCain is a liar. He’s a man without honor, without integrity, who could not have captured the Republican nomination had he run on making comprehensive immigration a top priority of his administration. Quite frankly, this is little different from George Bush Sr. breaking his “Read my lips, no new taxes pledge,” except that Bush’s father was at least smart enough to wait until he got elected before letting all of his supporters know that he was lying to them.

Under these circumstances, I simply cannot continue to support a man like John McCain for the presidency. Since that is the case, I have already written the campaign and asked them to take me off of their mailing list and to no longer send me invitations to their teleconferences. I see no point in asking questions to a man who has no compunction about lying through his teeth on one of the most crucial election issues and then changing his position the first time he believes he can get away with it.

Strong words indeed, and quite possibly representative of some elements of the conservative GOP who place national security and border control as their number one election issue. But does it truly represent any danger to McCain in the general election? You never want to see any of your party base abandon ship, but at this relatively late stage in the game McCain may still be able to pull off this type of “flip flop” with impunity.

Barring some sort of true disaster, McCain has the nomination wrapped up. He will carry the Republican standard forward in November. And while many in the Right wing base may find these statements objectionable, it is unlikely that they think a better deal will be coming from Senator Obama. In short, this change in position may cause a bit more buyer’s remorse from some of the primary voters who supported McCain, but for better or for worse he is the candidate they have in November.

McCain is doubtless aware that the more centrist and left leaning voters in America are keen on seeing some form of immigration reform. (Even President Bush recognizes that.) And the Arizona Senator also knows that he needs to worry more about reaching out to the middle at this point than further comforting his base supporters.

Cartoon by Petar Pismestrovic, Kleine Zeitung, Austria