McCain: Trump really fired up "the crazies" in Arizona with his immigration talk

If there are any votes left among tea-party border hawks that haven’t already migrated (temporarily) to Trump, this ought to shake them loose.

To think, there are conservatives out there in America today who are convinced their party’s elder statesmen view them with contempt.

“It’s very bad,” McCain, who was eager to talk about Trump, told me on Monday when I stopped by his Senate office. The Senator is up for reëlection in 2016 and he pays close attention to how the issue of immigration is playing in his state. He was particularly rankled by Trump’s rally. “This performance with our friend out in Phoenix is very hurtful to me,” McCain said. “Because what he did was he fired up the crazies.”…

“We’ll see how this plays out, but there is some anger in my state,” McCain said. He mentioned the continuing challenges of border security that were vividly highlighted when tens of thousands of Central American minors crossed into America last summer. “People who otherwise might be more centrist are angry about this border situation.”

Normally I’d assume McCain’s grouchy because Trump’s rise is another setback for his dream of a new legislative amnesty but this probably has more to do with petty electoral concerns. His boy Lindsey Graham is at risk of being bumped off the presidential debate stage by Trump and McCain himself could face a tougher than expected primary challenge in Arizona if Trumpmentum spills over and galvanizes an “oust Maverick” surge on the right there. In fact, if Trump wants to earn a little goodwill from some of his conservative critics, he should promise to campaign against McCain in the primary next year, replete with donations to his challenger. There’s no better way to prove you’re anti-establishment than by targeting ol’ Mav for political destruction. And if McCain’s counting on the fact of Trump’s unpopularity to help him out, he should reconsider: At least among Republicans, that unpopularity is no longer a fact. Trump’s gone from being viewed unfavorably by 65 percent of GOPers two months ago to being viewed favorably by 57 percent today. He has a big-name fan too in former Gov. Jan Brewer, who applauded Trump last week for “telling it like it really, truly is” on immigration. All he needs to do is stay engaged with this issue and Republican politics for the next nine months or so. Which means … yeah, McCain’s probably at no risk.

A better politician than Maverick would pause to reflect that “the crazies” could guarantee Democratic victory next year if they’re disaffected and that, rather than insult them, GOP chieftains might want to co-opt some of their concerns about immigration. Jonathan Last sees Trump as potentially another Perot if things don’t change:

Donald Trump–the Donald Trump–holds in his hands something like veto power over the Republican quest to win the White House. Sit with that for a moment…

Republican strategists (and their candidates) ought to understand that Republican voters care a lot about immigration. And yet, the attitude of the GOP establishment towards these folks seems to be, as Mickey Kaus jokes, they just “cling to their rage about immigration because they can’t get what they really want: Low capital gains taxes.”…

Donald Trump has the special kind of invulnerability that comes when you mix money with the incapacity for either reflection or shame. As such, he can’t be beaten or cowed.

But the coalition that is supporting him right now could be adopted by a better politician. And if it isn’t, the 2016 math gets pretty bleak.

What we need, says Last, is a candidate who’s broadly in favor of immigration yet candid about the fact that it comes with costs to the rule of law, to public safety, and of course to wages. Every Republican in the field would acknowledge that if pressed, but the only ones who seem remotely eager to discuss it are Cruz and Scott Walker and Walker may well clam up the moment the nomination’s secure. The core problem with Trump’s candidacy for Republican leaders is that, by consolidating a subset of the right around strong borders, he’s raising the cost of the party’s inevitable pander to amnesty fans in hopes of winning a greater share of the Latino vote. That was supposed to be a relatively low-cost transaction for the GOP: The nominee, be it Bush or Rubio or whoever, would check the requisite boxes about opposing sanctuary cities and jailing criminal aliens in the primaries and then shift instantly to hosannas about the economic and cultural dynamism of immigration in the general. By building a fan base on the right and positioning himself as a potential Perot figure, Trump makes that much harder. Winning elections requires selling out the Republican base. Doesn’t Trump understand that?

McCain does. I nearly choked on my coffee this morning reading this passage from the New Yorker piece quoted above:

McCain, who had a testy relationship with Senator Marco Rubio, another member of the Gang of Eight who is running for President, couldn’t resist adding, “Rubio backed away from it.”

I noted that Rubio, like many other Republican politicians, has been hard to follow on the issue and no longer supports the compromise approach that the Gang of Eight took in 2013: combining a pathway to citizenship and tough new border measures in a single bill. McCain licked his finger, held it up in the air, and laughed.

This guy is mocking other Republicans for twisting in the wind on immigration? What?