This naturally drives Roy crazy. The heroic band of immigration patriots inside the belly of the Beltway can't stand arch-amnestiac McCain (nor can Beltwayites who agree him on the issue, it seems). And not only are the other GOP candidates better on immigration, but Huckabee and Paul have actually signed NumbersUSA's anti-amnesty pledge - in the case of Paul, sincerely.
Exactly the same thing happened in Florida. A remarkable 16% of GOP voters told the New York Times exit pollsters that immigration was their top issue, making it the third-highest behind "Terrorism" (21%) and the economy (45%). (Immigration, of course, to a considerable extent is an economic issue). McCain got a quarter of these immigration patriots. (Paul got a disgraceful 3%).
Even more striking, a remarkable 45% of Florida GOP voters stoutly told the NYT exit pollers that illegal alien should be "deported to the country they came from". (The option of enforcement through attrition was apparently not offered). And McCain got 26% of them. (Paul got 4%).
Today, Rasmussen Reports shows immigration and the economy as as the top (!) issues in California, both named by a remarkable 32% of the overall electorate. Presumably, it's even hotter among GOP voters. But as I write this, it's far from clear that McCain's opponents have succeeed in getting the California electorate to make the connection between immigration and McCain's appalling record.
I remember years when pollsters never asked about immigration at all. (They would explain to us that their politician clients didn't want to know the answer.) Now, apparently, the issue is irrepressible.
Rasmussen reports that, as of January 23-24, immigration was the top issue for a heathy 8% of the overall national electorate ("Economy" got 40%, Iraq 13%. Abortion, in contrast, was nowhere.)
Unmistakeably, immigration is now the rock beneath the water of American politics. If McCain wins and Ron Paul runs as a third party candidate - and I'd guess he will - it could sink the GOP in 2008.
And even if Paul doesn't take it up - I'd guess he may continue to fumble it, alas - I remain comfortable with my prediction in Alien Nation (p.199-201): the immigration issue will ultimately break the current party system.
Can't happen a moment too soon.