Here's a lesson in how party elites try to placate their base.
With grassroots conservatives increasingly angry about President Bush's failure to address illegal immigration to their satisfaction, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is on pander patrol. It just sent out a faux survey/fundraising email (PDF) under the name of its chair, Elizabeth Dole, which begins:
Illegal immigration is putting a major strain on local, state and federal government. It impacts our national security, our economy, education system, and health care systems.
As Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, I want to know where loyal Republicans like you stand on this critical issue.
We need to move towards decisive action to address this growing challenge.
That's why the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) is conducting an important National Survey on Immigration Policy. This survey will gauge your opinions on the impact of illegal immigration in your area, current immigration policy and various proposals to address illegal immigration.
She then lets loose with a stream of semi-hysterical rhetoric that appears to implicitly criticize President Bush, as in this passage:
Illegal immigration in America has doubled since the 1990 census because of many factors: Immigration laws are just not being enforced...or they are bad laws that need to be changed...or we as a nation have not had the resources and the will to enforce the laws and properly control our borders. (her ellipses)
5. Do you support charging the governments of incarcerated aliens in our nation's prisons for the costs of their trials and imprisonment either through direct requests or by deducting costs from any aid prisoners' homelands receive from the U.S. government?
...7. Do you believe the government should deputize volunteer 'Minuteman' forces to augment the Border Patrol along the U.S. border?
To your average conservative, these might sound tough. But is the NRSC seriously considering proposing the deployment of the so-called "Minutemen" to the border? Of course not. However, seeing the idea being "considered" is designed to placate the base. Likewise, billing foreign governments for illegal immigration is simply never going to happen.
And, of course, once you have vented your anger about illegal immigration by completing the survey, you're taken to the inevitable request for donations to the NRSC.
This survey suggests two things:
(1) Republicans are worried about the illegal immigration issue. Their base is already demoralized, and it's making things worse.
(2) Howard Dean's predictions that President Bush is going to scapegoat illegal immigrants next may not come true. But panicked Congressional Republicans may be running "Wilfredo Horton" ads sooner than we think.