And in so doing sends hundreds of thousands scrambling to find and read a column they would have otherwise ignored. You won’t find an attack this personal anywhere except “Countdown” but it’s still righteous, for the simple reason that Rutten hasn’t the faintest idea how important immigration is to GOP primary voters. (Among other people.) Quote:

CNN chose to devote the first 35 minutes of this critical debate to a single issue — immigration. Now, if that leaves you scratching your head, it’s probably because you’re included in the 96% of Americans who do not think immigration is the most important issue confronting this country…

So, why did CNN make immigration the keystone of this debate? What standard dictated the decision to give that much time to an issue so remote from the majority of voters’ concerns? The answer is that CNN’s most popular news-oriented personality, Lou Dobbs, has made opposition to illegal immigration and free trade the centerpiece of his neonativist/neopopulist platform. In fact, Dobbs led into Wednesday’s debate with a good solid dose of immigrant bashing. His network is in a desperate ratings battle with Fox News and, in a critical prime-time slot, with MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann. So, what’s good for Dobbs is good for CNN.

In other words, CNN intentionally directed the Republicans’ debate to advance its own interests. Make immigration a bigger issue and you’ve made a bigger audience for Dobbs.

Dobbs has numbers in rebuttal but the point here is that immigration, more than any other issue on the Republican side, has become an ideological litmus test the way withdrawal from Iraq has on the left. It’s no mystery why Giuliani is willing to stick to his guns on abortion but has tacked hard right on border enforcement; it’s also no mystery why John McCain isn’t more viable as a candidate, although some segment of the left will forever delude itself into thinking it’s his Iraq boosterism, not amnesty, that sank him with Republican voters. Huckabee’s tuition breaks for illegal alien students are a tiny part of his record in Arkansas but Laura Ingraham and, ahem, certain others are killing him over it. Big shock that CNN would rather spend half an hour on that than put everyone up there through their paces yet again on why it’s important to win in Iraq, an issue in which voter interest is flagging and where the only variant onstage is Ron Paul.

And even the Paulnut’s anti-war stance is showing a little more nuance these days.