Thursday, April 20, 2006

We're not talking about immigration very much this week in Left Blogistan. I'm thinking about immigration, though, because I worry that it's the issue that could save the GOP Congress for Bush -- despite the fact that many congressional Republicans strongly disagree with the Bush approach. Or maybe because they disagree.

It seems to me that some congressional Republicans are practicing a sort of triangulation. That may not be the right word -- they're not exactly doing what Clinton did, which was to present himself as the guy in the "sensible center" between Republican crazies and the allegedly too-liberal Democrats in Congress and interest groups.

No, this is triangulation wingnut style. It's a sharply angled triangle, with Democrats said to be appeasers on immigration, Bush also said to be amenable to "amnesty," and certain GOP legislators on the far right tip of the triangle. They want to seal the borders. They want aliens arrested as felons. They want a real crackdown, dammit.

If they can hold the line against their own president's bill -- cf. Harriet Miers and Dubai -- they can create a generalized sense that Republicans in Congress are the guys who'll stand up to the damn illegals. This could work nationwide, bringing out red-meat Republicans wherever they're needed to win tight races (though only if nothing that could even remotely be called "amnesty" gets passed).

So these Republicans hold their seats by defying the president. And then, on most issues, they revert to being Bush's minions.

Yes, I know -- voters favor a mixed approach to immigration. But voters in November aren't going to be racing to the polls, thrilled at the chance to vote for the people who gave them a middle-ground response to the problem -- even if that response is what they said they wanted. It's going to be a midterm election; turnout is going to be determined by passions. Also, don't imagine that right-wing zealotry will turn off centrist voters; it certainly didn't in 2004, and for a generation it certainly hasn't been a liability for the most extreme of abortion and gun-control critics.

Yes, I'm also aware of the argument that the big demonstrations showed the clout of Hispanics, many of whom are citizens and can vote. But I don't think that matters much.

We've been here before. In 2004 we were told it was young people who were going to change their low-turnout ways and vote the Republicans out. This year it's Hispanics. Sorry: if we're betting that our newly pumped-up angry voters will outnumber their pumped-up angry voters, we're going to lose that battle. We always do.

Right-wingers live on rage. The only question is whether they'll stay angry enough and Republican enough to turn out in an off-year election.

One pollster thinks so:

"The size and magnitude of the demonstrations had some kind of backfire effect," said John McLaughlin, a Republican pollster who said he was working for 26 House members and seven senators seeking re-election. "The Republicans that are tough on immigration are doing well right now."

Sure, he's not exactly impartial. But things like this lead me to the conclusion that he may be right:

Letters to the editor [on immigration] ... have ... spiked [in Colorado]. Cohen Peart, the letters editor at the Denver Post, said it's rare for a single topic to get more than about a 20% share of the letters submitted, but immigration fills two-thirds of his inbox. Some 90% are anti-immigration. Mr. Peart's counterpart at the Rocky Mountain News, Steve Oelrich, said the flood "seems to be continuing pretty unabated."

Also this:

Angry over illegal immigration they say depresses wages and displaces American workers, hundreds of people called for stricter border enforcement during a rally Monday evening at Mill Creek Park [in Kansas City].

The rally came in response to two recent Kansas City rallies at which thousands of people called for undocumented immigrants to be given a path to citizenship.

“The open border crowd says they don’t want a 700-mile wall” built on the U.S.-Mexico border, law professor Kris Kobach told the crowd of at least 700. “I don’t want that either. I want a 2,000-mile wall.”

The crowd erupted in cheers, whistles and applause.

(It was a small demo -- but right-wingers hardly ever demonstrate, except for the anti-abortionists.)

You can mock Michelle Malkin's promotion of a campaign to send bricks to Congress --

-- but, as she notes, a couple of L.A. radio clowns are asking listeners to send toilet brushes to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, because at a rally for immigrants he said, "Today we say to America: We've come here to work: We clean your toilets. We clean your hotels. We build your houses. We take care of your children." These guys have the top-rated show in the L.A. radio market in their time slot; I think they know what will go over well in their market.

This is a huge issue for a lot of people. If anger at immigrants can be branded Republican, it could be a winner for the GOP at the polls. But the zealots have to stop the president. I think they could do it.

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