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McCain Reverses Course On Immigration Reform (again), Drawing Far-right Rebuke

When John McCain’s presidential campaign faltered badly last summer, there were a variety of problems, but near the top of the list was McCain’s w

When John McCain’s presidential campaign faltered badly last summer, there were a variety of problems, but near the top of the list was McCain’s work on a comprehensive immigration reform measure, which most Republican activists hated with a vengeance. McCain ultimately decided to abandon his own legislation, and announced earlier this year that he wouldn’t even vote for his own bill.

Now that he’s locked down the Republican nomination, McCain has decided to reverse course again, re-embracing the position he abandoned in order to gain GOP support.

In yet another sign of his pivoting toward the general election, Senator John McCain said at a roundtable with business leaders here today that comprehensive immigration reform should be a top priority for the next president. […]

Mr. McCain largely stopped talking about the issue and repeatedly invoked a mantra that he had gotten the message from voters that the borders needed to be secured first, before any solution for the illegal immigrants already here is addressed.

Sure, but that was when he was pandering to far-right activists, who he needed to get the GOP nomination. Now that he’s vanquished his Republican rivals, McCain feels comfortable pulling the hard-to-execute flip-flop-flip, gambling that conservatives will hate Obama enough to give McCain a pass.

Indeed, yesterday, speaking at a business roundtable in Silicon Valley alongside Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, McCain boasted of working with Ted Kennedy and said, “[W]e must enact comprehensive immigration reform. We must make it a top agenda item.” McCain went on to take an anti-deportation position on immigrants already in the U.S. who entered the country illegally, saying “they are also God’s children, and we have to do it in a human and compassionate fashion.”

McCain does so many reversals on this issue, I’m surprised he’s not dizzy. The far-right, meanwhile, is not amused.

2006 John McCain was absolutely certain that a comprehensive approach to immigration reform was the only way to go.

“Our nation’s immigration system is broken. And without comprehensive immigration reform, our nation’s security will remain vulnerable. That is why we must act.”

By November 2007, he’d given up on his policy and agreed to accept the conservative line.

“I understand why you would call it a, quote, shift,” McCain told reporters Saturday after voters questioned him on his position during back-to-back appearances in this early voting state. “I say it is a lesson learned about what the American people’s priorities are. And their priority is to secure the borders.”

That was his position in February 2008, and as recently as last month.

But now McCain no longer agrees with himself, and is back to supporting the approach he recently vowed to reject.

Conservatives aren’t responding to the news very well. Far-right blogger John Hawkins called McCain a “liar,” adding, “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.” Hawkins concluded he won’t support McCain in November.

Malkin is similarly incensed, writing, “McCain has shed every last pretense that he ‘got the message’ from grass-roots immigration enforcement proponents and is back to his full, open-borders shamnesty push. No surprise to any of you. But his complete regression back to the ‘comprehensive immigration reform’ euphemism is a notable milestone.”

Truth be told, I’m skeptical of just how many Republican voters there are who’ll let this issue dictate their vote. For that matter, I’m equally skeptical that all of the far-right voices who are threatening to withhold their support for McCain now will actually follow through in six months.

Either way, this is a rather striking example of the extent to which McCain will shift with the wind, abandoning promises and pledged principles whenever he thinks it will suit his purposes.

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