Peel split the Tories over corn. Gladstone split the Liberals over Ireland. The Democrats split over the Civil War, and a hundred years later over civil rights, Vietnam and the Soviet threat.
Will the GOP split over border security? The answer will be in tonight’s speech, which could be a huge boon for the president and the GOP, but could also be a disaster if the Adminsitration and Beltway experts refuse to take the base seriously.
The Washington Post today built upon a New York Times poll of last week that purports to show the country opposed to fencing along the border, with the Post arguing that:
Massive street demonstrations by illegal immigrants and their supporters against a House-passed bill to get tough on undocumented workers appear to have struck a sympathetic chord with most Americans. A New York Times/CBS poll last week found that 66 percent oppose the House’s measure to build hundreds of miles of fences along the southern border.
Here’s what the New York Times poll “found”:
About 60 percent of respondents said they favored the plan proposed by some Republicans in the Senate that would permit illegal immigrants who had worked in the United States for at least two years to keep their jobs and apply for citizenship. Just 35 percent endorsed the view of some conservatives that illegal immigrants should be deported. Two-thirds opposed building a 700-mile fence along the United States-Mexican border.
The Times’ poll is of almost no use without some glimpse of its questions and cross tabs.
But it could be of huge peril to the GOP if anyone believes it provides an effective argument against the fencing that must be the centerpiece of any real approach to border security.
National Guard deployments may signal some temporary tightening of the border, but the refusal to embrace the House program to extend existing fencing by 700 miles, and to do so with a crash construction effort, will be to signal unseriousness on border security of a thorough-going sort. The border-security faction within the GOP is not to be confused with the anti-regularization movement, and wants only for the party and president to be serious about stopping the next 11 million illegal entrants, not deporting the millions already here.
But seriousness means fencing of the sort that has already worked in San Diego and elsewhere.
Majority Leader Frist had an extended interview with Wolf Blitzer yesterday, and conspicuous for its absence is any commitment to fencing:
BLITZER: Have you been told by the White House that this is in the president’s intention, to deploy or, at least, seek approval for the deployment of U.S. military forces to the border with Mexico?
FRIST: You know, I have not been in direct conversation. I have encouraged use of the National Guard, again, not the Army and not the other military, but the National Guard, which is traditionally under the auspices of the states. I’ve encouraged — I’ve encouraged strongly. I think that’s the least we can do.
Securing our borders is a federal responsibility. We need to act. We have failed miserably in the past. That was what we failed with in 1986, when we last gave amnesty but we didn’t secure our borders. This time, we’ve got to get it right.
BLITZER: Here’s what Harry Reid, your counterpart, the Democratic leader in the Senate, says about this notion. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. SENATOR HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: As a result of the war in Iraq, so overextended, so depleted in numbers and in equipment, I don’t know how in the world we could ask them to have this additional burden, where they’ll have to be pulled out of various states around the country to go help with Katrina.
Now we have thousands and thousands Guard and Reserve troops in Iraq. Now we’re going to ask them to go to the border? I don’t think they are able to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FRIST: Well, you know, he’s wrong. The sort of whining and the moaning — we’ve go to secure our borders. We hear from the American people. We’ve got millions of people coming across that border. First and foremost, secure the border, whatever it takes. Everything else we’ve done has failed, we’ve got to face that. And so, we need to bring in, I believe, the National Guard. We need to put money in there. We’re doing that. We need to increase the number of border security agents. We’ve done that, and we’re going to continue to do that. But right now, for the short term, for all that to take effect, we have to have support, and it’s a federal responsibility, and the National Guard are the people to do it.
Senator Frist is right, the National Guard is the least that can be done, but he also refused to mention the fence, and I have to fear that tonight the president will make the smae mistake as the senator did, either by not mentioning it or by by suggesting a “virtual” fence would provide security.
If the president gives a nationwide, prime time speech and doesn’t embrace fencing when a vast number of his party’s regulars demand fencing, that will not only be ignoring them, it will be to reject them and their agenda. It will be a gift to Tom Tancredo and other anti-illegal immigration absolutists, an invitation to the Minutemen and their supporters to immediately dismiss the speech as window dressing.
Let’s hope the president and Karl Rove have figured this out: The way to end this debate is by doing the right thing: Fence and regularize, in that order, backed by the National Guard until the fencing can get done, with regularization to begin after the construction is complete.