Political Capital with John Harwood

Immigration Reform Collapse: The Biggest Losers

George W. Bush, speaks about immigration reform during an address at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast, Washington, DC.

This week's collapse of comprehensive immigration reform made all of Washington look inept. But here's a glance at the biggest losers:

1) Arizona Sen. John McCain. Once the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, Mr. McCain has seen his poll numbers dwindle as conservative activists cried “amnesty” over the bipartisan legislation he co-sponsored. His campaign blames fallout over the issue for contributing to his lagging fund-raising.

2) President Bush. Virtually every major domestic priority of his second term has now come to naught: no new immigration policy, no Social Security solution, no tax system overhaul. Continued trade expansion remains highly vulnerable.

3) Democratic Congressional leaders. Democrats won both houses of Congress in the 2006 elections in part by arguing that Republicans were incompetent to govern. On immigration, they enjoyed a comparatively united party and cooperation from a Republican White House. More than any other factor, heat from the right killed the bill. But voters elect Congressional majorities to solve problems, and Democratic incumbents can expect to pay some price every time they fail.

4) American business. Industries like agriculture, construction and tourism, are left with rising heat over immigrant labor, but no path toward legalization for workers the American economy plainly cannot do without.

5) The Republican Party, which is the biggest loser by far. Hispanics represent the fastest-growing chunk of the American electorate. Their choices help drive the rising swing states of presidential politics: Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico.

President Bush and adviser Karl Rove had built their long-term political strategy around honoring Hispanics’ aspirations and courting their support, with notable success in 2004. Those voters have now heard loud expressions of alarm from the Republican right about their presence in the U.S. That’s an echo of what they heard from California Gov. Pete Wilson in 1994, which benefited Mr. Wilson in the short-term but has damaged the party in the Golden State ever since. In addition, the immigration debate also exacerbates the split between Republican social and economic conservatives.

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