Sunday, May 02, 2010

You could win the illegal-immigration battle...

...but end up losing the war.

But which side ends up winning might not be as clear cut as you think.

Politico.com notes that Republican political leaders are walking a fine line as they assess the new illegal-immigration law in Arizona.

It's not hard to understand why. Various protests across the country this weekend -- including one in Los Angeles and many in Arizona -- are drawing attention to the tens of thousands of people who are opposed to the new Arizona law. It's not surprising that the protests heavily involve Hispanics, the fastest-growing minority in this country.

Therein lies the first rub for Republicans -- appear too vocal on the issue and they risk losing the young Hispanic vote for perhaps a generation; appear too timid and they risk losing support of Independents and Republicans, both of whom they will need to have any chance at political success in 2010. Remember, the political calculus is favoring the GOP this year with an electorate not convinced of the Democratic agenda they've seen over the past 15 months.

Of course, the political epicenter of this immigration earthquake is being felt in Washington, where President Obama continues to hear calls that he and the Democratic Party must respond forcefully to the controversial law.

There are important reasons why such a response might not be immediately forthcoming. First, there is the on-going (and very recent) crises in the Gulf of Mexico and New York City -- where disasters real and almost real are dominating news headlines. In other words, there are enough upfront issues to allow the pro and con protests to continue without seeing a credible political reaction. The danger there is that it could feed the sentiment that Washington lacks the political mettle to deal with immigration. (And that criticism cuts both ways of course, but with the Democrats in charge they will bear the blame of any immediate negative reaction.)

Then there is the reality that the need to stem the flow of illegal immigrants is something sizable majorities of Americans support. The stories of how people immigrated to this country (including this one) and gained their citizenship legally are potent reminders of how this country developed.

To further illustrate this point, consider that what has started in Arizona is expected to expand to other states -- some of them clear battleground states in the 2012 presidential election. The potential for a couple of "swing" states to go Republican in two years is enough to give Democrats pause.

So be careful as you hear the left tell you it will win this immigration fight and secure Democratic leadership for a generation. But be equally careful as you hear the right tell you it has a firm wedge issue that will crush the already teetering support for the president and his party.

At this point, both are attempting to win the rhetorical fight long before the war is over.

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