Chris Cillizza at The Fix notes the tough time that John McCain has had in his presidential campaign after the introduction of the comprehensive immigration reform bill in the Senate. McCain has begun to fight the characterization of the bill as an “amnesty”, but as Cillizza notes, that’s an uphill battle:
Over the last week, McCain has made a flurry of apperances on conservative talk radio television to sell the plan. He’s been on “The Mike Gallagher Show”. Sean Hannity’s radio show, “The Michael Medved Show”, “Captain’s Quarters Blog Radio” as well as local radio programs in South Carolina, Iowa and Arizona. He also appears last night on “The O’Reilly Factor”. …
The argument? Doing nothing amounts to the very amnesty that conservatives are railing against. “Right now it’s de facto amnesty because we have 12 million people here illegally,” McCain said on “The O’Reilly Factor.” He added that the bill backed by him and Bush does “everything short of deportation,” pointing out that it includes fines, waiting periods and learning English in order to be a citizen. …
The problem for McCain is that it is a far simpler case to oppose the legislation than support it. Decrying amnesty is an easy-to-understand political position that can be conveyed in a matter of seconds to a potential voter. Explaining why this bill is not amnesty takes far longer. Campaigns often hinge not on which candidate has the more nuanced position on a controversial issue but rather who has the more easily explained stance.
Actually, although Cillizza says that Romney has “most notably” attacked the plan as amnesty, Romney avoided that particular word in his appearances yesterday and in our interview. He noted that many people have different opinions of what constitutes amnesty, and he wanted to avoid a war over definitions. His objection stems from what he sees as a fundamental unfairness of allowing illegal entrants to remain permanently in the US.
That actually bolsters Cillizza’s argument elsewhere, though. “Amnesty” is an easy hook for opposition, and it forces McCain and other backers of the bill to argue over a dictionary definition. That takes time and nuance, neither of which are terribly effective in emotional arguments.
What does this mean? It argues that McCain will have a tough time defending the bill and his involvement in it — which could easily be gleaned in the comments on this blog and others in the conservative blogosphere (and I suspect on this very post). My skepticism doesn’t come from amnesty, which this bill clearly is not; it comes from what appears to me to be a lack of substantive border security guarantees, including the fence, before the controversial normalization provisions even come into play. And with the President saying that the bill would eliminate the need for a fence, I’m even less enthusiastic about it now:
Addressing one of the most sensitive issues in the measure, Bush expressed hope that the changes would reduce the need for a fence along the border with Mexico. …
“The fence sends a clear signal that we’re serious about enforcing the border,” Bush said. “A lot of these ranchers down there are saying, `Wait a minute. Bad idea.’ I presume we’re not going to build a fence on places where people don’t want it.”
So what keeps even more illegals from crossing the border in the future? Angry cattle?