I know that straw polls are virtually meaningless, but this one, from Georgia’s GOP convention is interesting, as the top two vote-getters aren’t officially in the race. John McCain is at 2% (same as Ron Paul), which says something about the unpopularity of the great immigration compromise among Georgia GOP activists, despite the fact that both of Georgia’s Republican Senators tentatively support the bill, for what I regard as sound (if not necessarily airtight) political reasons. In this connection, see also this Corner post.
Senators Chambliss and Isakson say they’re making the most of their minority position, but that assumes that something worse would otherwise be inevitable. The two worse alternatives I can think of are the status quo and a bill without any real border security provisions. Of course, the status quo is only worse if you think you can’t effectively take advantage of the politics of the immigration issue in 2008. I’ve seen the polls (thanks, John and the non-vituperative commenters), but I haven’t yet seen a poll that suggests that, push comes to shove, immigration is one of the most salient issues. Consider, for example, these results, from a poll conducted about two weeks ago: illegal immigration comes in tenth in a list of seventeen issues that people might consider "extremely important" to their vote in 2008; if you add "very important" to that, it falls to twelfth. Perhaps the current brouhaha will change that and raise the salience of immigration, but I don’t at the moment think you can wage a successful presidential/national congressional campaign on that issue in 2008. (The Georgia GOP activists know that too: only 1% supported Tancredo.)
Returning for a moment to my reconstruction of the Chambliss/Isakson calculations: they clearly think that this is the best bill they can get in the foreseeable future, presumably because, right now, they have a hard time imagining that 2008 will be a good year for Republicans. A bill passed in 2009 and signed into law by President Clinton, Obama, or Edwards would likely be much worse. They’ve got that right, I’m sure. But how can they be certain that a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President would pay any signficant attention to the triggers in this legislation (assuming it passes, which I still regard as highly unlikely)? They’d have to bet that a lot of effective border enforcement could be accomplished before the end of the Bush Administration, which is a pretty shaky proposition.
In a nutshell, 2006 made it next to impossible that anything the Republican base could be happy about, or even really live with, would become law. The questions folks should be asking have to do with why nothing could be accomplished in the 2005/6 legislative cycle. And there’s plenty of room for finger-pointing there.