To take the temperature of the conservative movement, just tune into talk radio.
For the past two weeks, talkers’ phone lines have been jammed with angry calls from frustrated listeners. They’re hot as blazes about the immigration bill, and their anger has emboldened grassroots conservatives to criticize President Bush like never before.
“There’s no other topic that I talk about that has the passion of this,” says Washington, D.C., talk-show host Chris Core. “Not the war in Iraq, not abortion, not gun control. Nothing.”
Core isn’t alone. From nationally syndicated hosts to local commentators, the issue of immigration has divided traditional allies and caused what could be an irreparable rift between Bush and conservatives. In my nearly six years living in Washington, all under the reign of Bush, I can’t recall a time when conservatives and the White House have clashed so virulently.
Don’t get me wrong, things were bad during the battles over No Child Left Behind, the Medicare prescription drug bill and the failed Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers. But the debate over immigration has the likes of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and the National Council of La Raza agreeing more often with the Bush administration than conservatives. That spells trouble.
Bush’s decision last week to insult critics of the immigration bill didn’t help. His assertion that they “don’t want to do what’s right for America” caused such a backlash that opponents are now even more determined to stop the legislation. One leading critic told me privately, “His remarks were offensive to many grassroots citizens and activists. How elitist! Outrage is growing because of remarks like these -- just tune in any talk radio program or read any newspaper.”
With nearly ever major conservative columnist opposed to the bill and talk-show hosts railing about it each and every day, it’s not surprising that so many conservatives have fallen in line. But then again, Bush handed them a divisive issue to rally around. Unfortunately for him, it could be his ultimate undoing.