George Will

     Leaving aside the merits of the Senate bill, and considering the ad simply as political ammunition, it packs more punch than what one hears from Democrats this year. (House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi: "We have two oilmen in the White House. The logical follow-up from that is $3-a-gallon gasoline. There is no accident. It is a cause and effect.'') The "He Needs Glasses'' ad features the third-ranking member of the Republicans' Senate leadership attacking legislation that passed the Senate even though a majority of Republican senators -- 32 of 55 -- voted against it. Supported by 39 of 44 Democratic senators, this "Casey-supported'' legislation has two key features -- a guest worker program and a path to citizenship for most of the 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants -- that are supported by George W. Bush and that are the two main reasons why Republicans oppose the bill.

     Many Republicans, looking for any silver lining on an abundance of dark clouds, think the immigration issue might be a silver bullet that will slay their current vulnerability. The issue is, as political people say, a "two-fer.'' Opposition to the Senate bill, and support for the House bill, puts Republican candidates where much of the country and most of their party's base currently is -- approximately, "fix the border, then maybe we can talk about other things.'' And opposition to the Senate bill distances them from a president who, although rebounding recently, has approval ratings below 40 percent in 29 states.

     Republicans very much want to pass an immigration bill as proof their party can govern. For that reason, there is no reason to expect Senate Democrats to compromise by passing something like the House bill. Nothing very different from it has any chance of being accepted by the House. So, assuming, as it seems safe to do, that the House-Senate conference fails to produce a compromise acceptable to both houses, when Congress returns to Washington after the Labor Day recess the House may again pass essentially what it passed in December, just to enable Republicans to campaign on the basis of a clear and recent stance against exactly what Santorum's ad stands against.

     The cost of this, paid in the coin of lost support among Latinos, the nation's largest and fastest growing minority, may be reckoned later, for years. Remember this: Out West, feelings of all sorts about immigration policy are particularly intense, and if John Kerry had won a total of 127,014 more votes in New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado, states with burgeoning Latino populations, he would have carried those states and won the election. But for now, the minds of Republican candidates are concentrated on a shorter time horizon -- the next four and a half months.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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