Frank Rich looks at the national politics of immigration in today's New York Times:
Outbreaks of nativist apoplexy are nothing new in American history. The last derailed George W. Bush’s apparently earnest effort to get a bipartisan immigration compromise through the Senate in 2007. At the time, the more egregious expressions of anti-immigrant rage — including Arizona’s self-appointed border-patrol militia, the Minutemen — were stigmatized as a fringe by the White House and much of the G.O.P. establishment. John McCain, though facing a tough fight for the Republican presidential nomination, signed on to the Bush reform effort despite being slimed by those in his party’s base who accused him of supporting “amnesty.”
What a difference the Tea Party makes. This time McCain endorsed his state’s new immigration law as “a good tool” and “a very important step forward,” and propagandized in favor of it with his widely ridiculed televised canard that illegal immigrants were “intentionally causing accidents on the freeway.” McCain, like other mainstream conservative Republicans facing primaries this year, is now fighting for his political life against a Tea Party-supported radical. His opponent, the former congressman and radio shock jock J. D. Hayworth, is an unabashed birther who frames the immigration debate as an opportunity to “stand up for our culture,” presumably against all immigrants, legal and illegal alike. In this political climate, he could well win.