COULD BUSH HAVE EVER GOTTEN THIS IMMIGRATION BILL THROUGH?
The New York Times has the conventional wisdom:
The outcome ... underscored the challenge that Mr. Bush faces in exerting authority and enacting an agenda at a time when members of his own party increasingly break with him and the Democrats no longer fear him.
I don't know about that. I think he would have had a tough time a year ago, or two years ago, or three. He might have even had a tough time back when he had sky-high approval ratings. This is an issue that turns a certain large minority of the population into one issue-voters, and that chunk has been angry for a while. Note that the numbers weren't much better for this kind of change in, say, 2005:
In this [October '05] CBS News Poll, three in four Americans say the U.S. is not doing enough along its borders to keep illegal immigrants from entering the country. Just 15 percent say the U.S. is doing enough....
Even many members of the President's political base do not approve of the job he is doing on immigration. 44 percent of Republicans disapprove of his handling of the issue, while just 30 percent approve. Among conservatives, nearly half disapprove of Bush's handling of immigration; only a quarter approve. In addition, 47 percent of white evangelicals disapprove.
(And as Ruy Teixeira noted at the time, poll numbers on immigration had been like that for years.)
That was when the base still loved Bush on just about everything. But, of course, the base still loved him and he still had a GOP Senate when he nominated Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court; the base was still solid and Congress was still in the GOP's hands when the Dubai Ports World deal was imminent. It didn't matter -- the base revolted, Republican members of Congress ran scared, and no one else in the electorate was happy, so Miers had to withdraw and the Dubai Ports deal didn't happen.
I'm not sure Bush ever had the political capital to defy his biggest fans this way. As I said just after Miers withdrew,
The mistake Bush made here was thinking that he's the president of the United States. That's not what the base thinks. The base didn't vote for Bush -- the base voted for the conservative movement. To the base, Bush is president only insofar as he embodies the conservative movement.
He defied the base on a red-flag issue and no one else wanted to back him up. I don't know if he ever could have gotten away with that.