As the President goes “wheels-up” from Omaha today, many still have a question mark as to why he was here. Only one person in the Congressional delegation supports the Prez’s position (Sen. Chuck Hagel) and for the rest, it’s almost a no-winner at election time. (And, as always, Don Walton of the LJS has an excellent summary of their positions and many implications — Bush plan turns state’s politics upside down – LJS – 6/7/06.)
Tom Osborne has shown that to be pro-immigrant-anything right now is a loser in Nebraska. Pete Ricketts, who supports the Hagel position, may find that this is the defining issue in November, and it could take down his ship.
So why is the President fighting for this presumably pro-immigrant position? Some would say he’s taking the high road. But the reality is that President Bush is thinking politically, and thinking for his party’s future.
By anyone’s count there are a zillion illegal immigrants in the U.S. (numbers estimated). And generally, those immigrants/Latinos are going to have kids (some would say more kids than the average Bob and Sally in West Omaha/Elkhorn). And when those kids are born, they will be LEGAL U.S. citizens. And one day, in the not-to-distant future, they will vote. The Prez is making an investment with his political capital, that future Republicans better appreciate. Instead of having a minority group that goes 90% for the Democrats in every election (like the African American voter block), the Republicans could have a huge group that actually supports them. Not to mention a group that has traditionally conservative roots on many issues. (And Nebraskans, you can gare-un-tee that Earl B. Nelson will be very pro-immigrant in the Senate if he pulls it out in November. Just as he’ll change his tune on lottttts of other issues. The Dems aren’t just going to cede this voting block to the Republicans.)
So Republicans should tread lightly here. Lee Terry already seems to understand this to some degree. He seems willing to support a compromise, as long as it solidifies his short term position (“build a friggin’ fence!”). And politically, one can’t blame Heineman for taking the wedge position against Osborne in the primary, even if it was a finger-in-the-wind decision.
But if they can manage to not completely outrage the entire Latino population, Republicans will have George W. Bush to thank for many election victories for years to come. Even if they can’t see beyond November 2006.