The nativists are restless

McCain’s re-flip-flop back to “comprehensive immigration reform” may cost him part of his base.

Having been consumed with watching the soap opera on the Democratic side, I didn’t even notice when John McCain, who notoriously flip-flopped on immigration from “comprehensive approach” to “border security first” (to the point where he said he would now vote against his own bill, the one that went down in flames under wingnut ack-ack fire last summer) un-flip-flopped (or is it re-flip-flopped?) and called for comprehensive immigration reform as a first order of business in January.

What does this tell you about McCain’s character? I’m not sure what to think. Obviously the original flip-flop was deeply discreditable, among the strongest pieces of evidence that Maverick Straight-Talking McCain, if indeed he ever existed, has died of the “rottenness” that Jefferson said was the inevitable consequence of “casting one’s eyes upon offices.” But should we say that in re-reversing course almost as soon as he secured the nomination McCain is assuring us that there actually is a moderate still buried under all those layers of wingnut makeup? Or should we just say that McCain is demonstrated that he’s not even the sort of “honest politician” who stays bought?

In any case, the more practically relevant question is, “Can he get away with it?” That is, will it help him with Latinos and employers greedy for cheap labor without hurting him too much among the nativist die-hards?

My guess would have been, “Sure.” It’s obvious that, with Obama as the alternative, McCain ought to be the preferred choice of the contemporary right wing in policy terms. (Some actual conservatives, especially strong Constitutionalists, might actually prefer Obama. But actual conservatives are always thin on the ground.) But that analysis ignores the fact that many wingnuts have long hated McCain: for making peace with Vietnam and killing the POW-MIA myth and racket, for campaign finance reform, for voting against the Bush tax cuts, for believing the scientists rather than the oil companies about climate change, and for refusing to embrace torture.

Or, as John Hawkins of Right Wing News puts it:

I’ve never been a fan of John McCain. Not only is he not a conservative, he may have done more damage to the conservative movement than any other Republican over the last few years. Look back at the Gang-of-14, global warming, McCain-Feingold, coddling terrorists at Gitmo, illegal immigration — on and on and on, and you’ll remember John McCain working feverishly with liberals to defeat conservatives.

Yes, yes, you and I know that he has broken his own campaign finance laws, that he’s now for the Bush tax cuts, and that, far from “coddling terrorists at Gitmo” he’s actually cool with torture as long as it’s done by people not wearing uniforms, but it’s not our view that’s the relevant one here. And, as I would have predicted, Hawkins was firmly behind the candidate he disliked, arguing the way I like to see people on my side of the aisle argue after a primary defeat:

For all of his flaws, and there are many of them, John McCain is far to the right of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Those of us on the Right tend to downplay that, because a betrayal by someone on our own side stings much more sharply than one from a Democrat, but it is something conservatives should be willing to admit.

Hawkins then goes through the issues on which McCain in office would be predictably to the right of his Democratic opponent: the budget, the Supreme Court, Iraq, health care.

But today Hawkins is singing a different tune. Not only was immigration “a bridge too far,” but Hawkins is personally offended at having been played for a sucker:

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.

Moreover, I genuinely regret having to do this because I do still believe the country would be better off with John McCain as President as opposed to Obama or Clinton. However, I just cannot in good conscience cast a vote for a man who has told this big of a lie, for this long, about this important of an issue.

I wouldn’t put much money, either way, on the proposition that Hawkins will stand firm. And I have no idea how many people who used to be reliable Republican voters feel the way he does. But the column suggests that McCain may lack the base of trust within his own party that would allow him to pivot toward the center as much as he needs to.

h/t Andrew Sullivan

Footnote Anchor baby Michelle Malkin is also unhappy. Bonus: she and her commenters are making fun of McCain’s “incentives for trolls” plan. However this plays out in November, for now just watching Republicans form a circular firing squad for a change gives me a warm feeling all over.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com