Mark Salter, former chief of staff and speechwriter for Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), has some fun at the expense of Arizona’s voters in an article touting the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill that comes before the Senate Thursday. “[J]ust pass the damn thing now,” he says, an apparent reference to McCain’s promise to enforce border security during his 2010 re-election campaign: “Complete the danged fence,” McCain said.
Salter wasn’t working for McCain then, but he was working for McCain during the 2008 presidential campaign, when McCain told activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference that we should “secure our borders first” and only “address other aspects of the problem” once that has been done. Now McCain is singing a very different tune, demanding that his colleagues pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill.
Supporters of the bill are no longer pretending that it actually solves the problem of illegal immigration. They are, in some cases, resorting to accusations of bigotry. Salter dabbles in that, referring to “avowed nativists”–but the substantive argument he offers in favor of the bill is almost incoherent. Since only a comprehensive bill is possible, he says, Republicans will have to pass one eventually; better to pass it now.
And why is a comprehensive bill the only answer? His answer: “No one gets what they want unless everyone gets what they want”–i.e. every side must make concessions for legislation to pass. But border security is not a bargaining chip. It is already the law of the land–a law that President Barack Obama refuses to enforce. What Salter is really saying is that Republicans must concede to that dereliction of duty.
He is also implying that conservative voters must accept being misled by moderate Republicans who pander to them in primaries and betray them in office. Many of us trusted that McCain really had understood the issue, that he had made a good-faith effort to solve the immigration problem and learned from experience. Salter is wrong about the immigration bill, but he is right to laugh those of us who once believed McCain.