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Shamnesty? McCain suffers right wing backlash over immigration flip-flop
Muriel Kane
Published: Friday May 23, 2008

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Since running into problems with grassroots conservatives over his support last year for an immigration bill that would have offered citizenship to illegal immigrants, Republican presidential candidate John McCain has steadily maintained that he would deal with border security before taking up larger immigration issues.

Now a statement by McCain to a group of business leaders concerned about obtaining visas for foreign workers, which suggests he has reversed his position yet again, is leading to rumbles of discontent within the conservative base.

McCain told the business roundtable on Thursday, "Senator Kennedy and I tried very hard to get immigration reform, a comprehensive plan, through the Congress of the United States. ... Because of our failure as a federal obligation, we’re seeing all these various conflicts and problems. ... We must enact comprehensive immigration reform. We must make it a top agenda item."

McCain's statement immediately led to a blast from right-wing blogger John Hawkins. "John McCain is a liar," Hawkins wrote in an entry that quickly became the subject of widespread discussion on the right. "He's a man without honor, without integrity, who could not have captured the Republican nomination had he run on making comprehensive immigration a top priority of his administration."

Last year's immigration reform bill became an important issue in the Republican primary and threatened for a time to derail McCain's candidacy. In February, McCain changed direction, telling the Conservative Political Action Conference that he had heard the concerns of the American people.

"While I and other Republican supporters of the bill were genuine in our intention to restore control of our borders," McCain stated, "we failed, for various and understandable reasons, to convince Americans that we were. I accept that, and have pledged that it would be among my highest priorities to secure our borders first."

In the months since, McCain has continued to insist that border security must precede immigration reform, which is why his apparent reversal of priorities comes as such a blow to conservative supporters like Hawkins.

"Under these circumstances, I simply cannot continue to support a man like John McCain for the presidency," Hawkins writes. "Since that is the case, I have already written the campaign and asked them to take me off of their mailing list and to no longer send me invitations to their teleconferences."

Michelle Malkin also joined the anti-McCain chorus, writing, "McCain has shed every last pretense that he 'got the message' from grass-roots immigration enforcement proponents and is back to his full, open-borders shamnesty push. No surprise to any of you. But his complete regression back to the 'comprehensive immigration reform' euphemism is a notable milestone."

Other right-wing bloggers are cautioning against overreaction and calling for conservatives to unite around McCain on the grounds that he is still preferable to Barack Obama.

However, Greg Ransom concludes, "If someone is making a simple choice between Obama and McCain, as Thomas Sowell has said, the choice is an easy one. But for me as with John Hawkins, the decision to pull the lever for McCain is more than a choice between Obama and McCain, it's a decision to pull the lever for someone who has personally betrayed me, someone who has personally lied to me. And that's a decision that is really hard to make."