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The Sinking Immigration Bill

President Bush seems determined to expend what remains of his dwindling reserves of political capital on his overwhelmingly unpopular (but Senate-supported) immigration bill. Directing his criticism at part of the very coalition that had elected him, he recently explained his reasoning:

I’m deeply concerned about America losing its soul. Immigration has been the lifeblood of a lot of our country’s history. And I am worried that a backlash to newcomers would cause our country to lose its great capacity to assimilate newcomers.

Those are worthy thoughts. But they’re disconnected from middle- and lower-middle-class voters who feel that the very size of the current, largely single-source immigration is forcing them (and not the newcomers) to adapt.

Despite the considerable efforts of Bush and the bi-partisan group of senators backing the bill, public support remains stuck at 26 percent. And Bush’s popularity on this score will only be further weakened by the loud and lusty booing of America’s entrant in the Miss Universe contest by a Mexican audience recently.

The White House has missed the fact that while 68 percent of those surveyed in Wednesday’s Rasmussen telephone poll do agree with President Bush that we need to establish a path to legalization for those already here, only one in six Americans believe that this particular bill will actually reduce illegal immigration. Forty-one percent think the legislation will lead to an increase in illegal immigration. (What’s especially striking about these numbers is that 81 percent of those surveyed said that are following the issue closely and 37 percent very closely, leaving little room for maneuver.)

McCain’s close identification with the bill has sent his poll numbers so far south that Mitt Romney (an opponent of the bill) has passed the Arizonan and moved into second place, behind the frontrunner Giuliani. The generally immigration-friendly former New York mayor, recognizing the core issue at stake—72 percent of those surveyed insist that enforcing border laws is the primary issue—has opposed the bill on security grounds. But the imminent entrance of Fred Thompson may give Giuliani competition on this score.

Thompson recently told a radio audience last week that “A nation without secure borders will not long be a sovereign nation.” “No matter how much lipstick Washington tries to slap onto this legislative pig,” he continued, “it’s not going to win any beauty contests.”

The beauty of this issue for both Giuliani and Thompson is that it allows them to separate themselves from an unpopular President and simultaneously appeal to the GOP base. This could set off a bidding war of sorts between Giuliani, Thompson, and Romney as to who is more strongly opposed to the Bush position.


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