"I'll see you at the bill signing," said a cocky George W. Bush in Bulgaria, when he heard the Senate had just fallen 15 votes short of voting cloture on the Kennedy-Kyl immigration bill he had embraced.
Bush returned home, went to the Hill and implored the Senate Republicans to resurrect his bill. They did, only to have it go down to crushing defeat a second time, 46 to 53, last Thursday.
Bush has sustained a major humiliation. But he is not alone.
Routed, too, were Teddy Kennedy and John McCain, the Chamber of Commerce and La Raza, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. For this proposed amnesty for 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens ignited a spontaneous uprising against the leadership of both parties, corporate America and the mainstream media, as well.
A defeat like this is almost unheard of in Washington. For when the establishment unites -- as it did behind the Panama Canal giveaway and NAFTA -- it almost always wins.
Indeed, just as it is a defining mark of a superpower that when it commits to war it wins, so it is a defining feature of an establishment that when it commits to a political course, it prevails. When the Soviet Union was defeated in Afghanistan, it ceased to be a superpower and soon ceased to exist. Our establishment has suffered a comparable defeat.
The Beltway was routed by a coalition of TV and radio talk show hosts, grass-roots activists and backbenchers with the courage to defy their masters. The regime was run off the hill by the country that it claims to represent.
Repercussions will be far-reaching, as they were from that Panama Canal debate. Ronald Reagan led the opposition in that fight, and though he lost, it propelled him to the presidency.
Consider McCain. Once thought to be the runaway favorite for the GOP nomination, he has fallen to sixth in Iowa, dropped out of the Aug. 11 straw poll, plunged to single digits in South Carolina and may see his campaign crash before January.
Among GOP senators, Jim DeMint, David Vitter, Jeff Sessions and Tom Coburn have emerged as lions, while Jon Kyl, Lindsey Graham and Mel Martinez have likely suffered enduring damage for having chartered a Teddy Kennedy Republican Club.
Among Democratic senators, newcomers Jim Webb of Virginia, John Tester of Montana and Claire McCaskill of Missouri joined a dozen others to vote down the bill. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont socialist, also voted no.
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