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McCain to Hispanics: Trust Me on Immigration U-Turns

July 14, 2008

In San Diego today, John McCain will make a most unusual pitch to Hispanic voters at the annual convention of the National Council of La Raza. Having performed a complete 360 degree turn on the immigration reform package he once championed, McCain now insists that he's "earned" the trust of Latino voters.
In his remarks, McCain will ask the attendees to join him in a bout of selective amnesia by forgetting his just-in-time abandonment of his own comprehensive immigration bill during the GOP primaries:

"I took my lumps for it without complaint. My campaign was written off as a lost cause. I did so not just because I believed it was the right thing to do for Hispanic Americans. It was the right thing to do for all Americans.
I do ask for your trust that when I say, I remain committed to fair, practical and comprehensive immigration reform, I mean it. I think I have earned that trust."

No doubt, over the past five years, McCain's path on immigration reform has been circuitous, even circular. In 2003, he proclaimed "I think we can set up a program where amnesty is extended to a certain number of people who are eligible." During Senate debate over issue in September 2006, McCain praised his colleagues who "rejected the argument for an 'enforcement first' strategy that focuses on border security only, an ineffective and ill-advised approach."
But after being pummeled by his Republican presidential opponents and conservative primary voters who helped torpedo his Senate immigration reform bill, John McCain in 2007 underwent a conversion on the road to the GOP nomination. As the ultra-right Washington Times noted in January 2008:

The Arizona Republican now says that, in the wake of last summer's defeat of "comprehensive immigration reform," he has "gotten the message" that the border must be secured before the status of illegals already in the United States can be dealt with.

McCain testified to his dramatic turnabout on comprehensive immigration reform during a January 30, 2008 GOP debate. As ThinkProgress recounted, McCain announced he would not vote for his own bill today:

Q: At this point, if your original proposal came to a vote on the Senate floor, would you vote for it? [...]
McCAIN: No, I would not, because we know what the situation is today. The people want the borders secured first.

But with the Republican nomination won and the need to quickly move to the electoral center now a pressing priority, McCain reversed himself yet again. Speaking to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in June, McCain pledged that if elected, he would make immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for illegal residents "my top priority." But the confusion and conflicting promises in McCain's tightrope walk on immigration were on display in that same speech:

"Many Americans, with good cause, did not believe us when we said we would secure our borders, and so we failed in our efforts. We must prove to them that we can and will secure our borders first."

To be sure, winning over Hispanic voters will be a tall task for McCain. Thanks to the xenophobic immigrant bashing of the GOP, McCain already trails Barack Obama among Hispanic voters by wide margins ranging from 25% to 34%. (In comparison, John Kerry beat George W. Bush by only 53% to 44% among Latino voters.) No doubt, the initial decision of all of the Republican presidential hopefuls (save John McCain) to skip a September Univision Hispanic presidential forum didn't help matters any. As La Raza's Cecilia Munoz aptly put it:

"It's not just that they are not coming. It's that some of them are visibly insulting us."

As for the conservative base McCain wooed during the Republican primaries, his second immigration U-turn isn't winning him any fans, either. The right-wing blogosphere erupted against McCain's latest Hispanic outreach ad, which one called "monumentally stupid." Referring to McCain's campaign as a "fatally ill patient," right-wing godfather Richard Viguerie said last week that McCain's pandering on issues like immigration "has done little to convince conservatives they should come off the sidelines and fight for him."
Clearly, conservative hard liners don't trust John McCain. And given his gymnastic flip-flops and political opportunism on immigration reform, America's 43 million Hispanic voters shouldn't trust him, either.


About

Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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