Like the famous racehorse Silky Sullivan, Sen. Rick Santorum is known as a great closer. Yet, months ago, he had been virtually given up for dead by pundits in his race against Bob Casey, Jr., son of the popular, pro-life, former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania.
One poll early this year had Santorum down 23 points, an almost insurmountable deficit. A Strategic Value poll had Santorum down 16 points.
Now the senator who had been written off is finishing fast. An average of all polls monitored by the RealClearPolitics.com website finds him trailing by 6 points. The most recent Strategic Value poll confirms it. Casey is at 47; Santorum, 41 and rising.
What accounts for the surge? The Washington Times traces it to one issue: "Republican strategists say Santorum's tough stand on immigration has become a key factor." No. 3 in the Senate leadership, Santorum was the highest-ranking Republican to vote against the McCain-Kennedy amnesty bill that would open a path to U.S. citizenship for 10 million of the aliens who have either broken into our country, or are breaking the laws by being here, plus grant a full pardon from all civil and criminal penalties for the companies that employed them. McCain-Kennedy would further empower corporations to go abroad and hire what unions once called "scabs" to bring here to take jobs Americans cannot take at Third World wages.
"We did a certain amount of internal polling and when it got to immigration, it was very clear," says Santorum's media consultant John Braybender, who prepared two tough ads on immigration. "Rick's position versus Casey's was overwhelming. If Casey or anyone else thinks this is not an issue in Pennsylvania, they should start talking to voters."
Backing up Braybender is the same Strategic Value poll that found 79 percent of Pennsylvanians opposed to amnesty and 82 percent favoring a wall on the Mexican border. Pennsylvanians, like the rest of America, want the border secured and the illegals sent home.
But what will it take to wake up Karl Rove, lately sighted at the Los Angeles convention of the National Council of La Raza, where he won cheers for urging legalization of "undocumented" workers and boos for speaking of border security? (The literal translation of La Raza is "The Race.") Imagine the reaction to David Duke organizing a "National Council of The Race."
Two months from election day, Republicans, divided over Iraq, amnesty, spending, the loss of manufacturing and an economy that has left the working class treading water while the investor class is singing "Happy Days Are Here Again," are looking at the prospect of something somewhere between a defeat and a rout, or a massacre.
Yet if Republicans wish to hold Congress, despite what they may deserve, the Bushites could do no better than to borrow from the Santorum playbook. What can Bush and Congress do in 60 days?
One, publicly set aside the amnesty and guest worker provisions of the McCain-Kennedy bill. Bush cannot get them passed by the House in any event. Second, extract and enact the most urgent and popular provisions of both the Senate and House bills.
Bush should request $3 billion to $4 billion to start a security fence along all major crossing points for drug-dealers, coyotes and illegals. Then have Homeland Security begin systematic and public deportation of felons and gang members who are not U.S. citizens. Tattooed thugs being put on planes in cuffs will do the GOP and nation a world of good.
The FBI can provide the names. It has been tracking MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, the most vicious and violent gang in the hemisphere, with tens of thousands of members in the United States, for a year now.
Then call on Congress to reclaim its authority to denaturalize and deport any new citizen whose conduct -- applauding Al Qaeda or engaging in gang activity -- suggests they lied to become U.S. citizens. Bush could then tour the border again and, this time, shake hands with a few of the Minutemen patriots he earlier derided as "vigilantes." Unfortunately for the GOP, Rove & Co. believe that if Republicans take the hard line on illegal immigration that Pete Wilson took in 1994, the GOP will be as dead nationally as it has been lately in California. They forget: Wilson converted a 20-point deficit into a 10-point victory, captured both houses of the legislature and brought in four new GOP congressmen.
Arnold is the only other Republican to win statewide since then, and he ran against driver's licenses for illegals. No Republican who has taken the Rove-La Raza line has ever won the Golden State. Why is the GOP so mindlessly pursuing a transparently losing strategy?
In pandering to La Raza, Rove may be playing for the long run. But as Lord Keynes said, in the long run we are all dead, which is where Republicans are headed if they don't get it right on this issue. Like Rick Santorum.