A few days after Thanksgiving, I asked Mike Huckabee what had surprised him about voters over the past six months of campaigning. "The intensity of the immigration issue," he said immediately, and then added, "I honestly don't know why it's gotten so hot."...
John McCain, the sponsor of immigration-reform legislation, has been a target. During a recent town-hall meeting in Hopkinton, N.H., a heavily muscled young man with closely cropped hair began to shout about "open borders" as the issue "that will destroy this country ... You can't imagine the amount of anger your average European Christian American feels about the multicultural tower of Babel." He raised the possibility of "civil war." McCain usually turns warrior when confronted with such blatant racism, but sensing the heat in the room, he held his fire this time, calmly saying "I will do everything in my power to secure our borders... But on the larger issue you raise, I believe that people who have come here [legally] from other countries... are our greatest strength."
There are signs of festering intolerance even among Democratic audiences, noticeably in Iowa, which has seen a surge of Latino immigration in recent years. The Democratic candidates are uniformly in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for those who have entered the country illegally. But they receive sharp — pointed — applause when they say illegals should "have to speak English" before becoming citizens.
When I asked Hillary Clinton about that, she said she'd noticed it too and added, "During the 1990s, I cannot remember being asked about immigration... Why? Because the economy was working... And average Americans didn't have to go around looking for someone to blame."... (Hillary gets it!)
Huckabee is likely to suffer for refusing to demagogue immigration. He is already in trouble for offering college scholarships to deserving children of illegal immigrants in Arkansas. "We never should grind our heel in the face of a child," he has said. But if a nativist revolt is brewing, his fellow Republicans are handing out the pitchforks. Peripheral candidates like Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter set the slime flowing in the presidential campaign.