I've had this little idea floating around for the last few months, but dared not reveal it until McCain locked up the nomination. I think you'll understand why when you read further.
John McCain is still supporting comprehensive immigration reform and just recently told Tim Russert of NBC that he believes the bill bearing his name was correct two years ago and he would vote for it if he had the opportunity today. I believe him.
Let's just suppose Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi decided to bring back the 2006 version of the comprehensive immigration reform bill - the good one - and schedule it for, let's say, a good several weeks of very public debate this spring or summer in each House. Do you think the GOP is going to allow their rank and file members to attack their nominee day in day out over the immigration issue? If they do, the results could be disastrous as McCain will be going around the country trying to unite a very fractured party that is already pretty suspicious of his conservative bona fides. Can you imagine one Republican after another having to come to the microphone to denounce the McCain-Kennedy bill (and that's what Reid and Pelosi need to call it every chance they get)? And then McCain being dogged by reporters asking about it multiple times each day?
The Democrats are fretting today about continuing their internal fighting all the way to the convention and McCain having a basically free pass to go out and rally support. But throwing the immigration "grenade" and stirring up the immigration storm in the GOP may make the Democrats bickering look pretty tame.
So how might the grown ups in the GOP prevent this nightmare scenario from playing out? I think what you might see is a sudden willingness to work a deal quickly and behind the scenes and largely on the Democrats' terms. Aside from protecting their nominee, some of the GOP leaders are probably starting to ask the question of why McCain was able to get the nomination if the anti-immigration issue was so potent. Maybe Republicans are safer on this issue than they thought and don't have to worry quite so much about taking a moderate immigration position.
While the Democrats might have been timid about this issue given how things went last summer when it looked like they could be seriously hurt, a few months is an eternity in politics. Bringing back immigration reform would have virtually no drawbacks now and could reap major rewards, both political (if McCain is seriously damaged or distracted) and substantive (if immigration reform actually passed).
Just wanted to throw that out there....
[UPDATE: It also occurs to me that McCain will be in a pickle if he tries to nuance or change his position and talk about "enforcement first" since he now has to convince Hispanic voters not to abandon the GOP as polls are suggesting they are doing in droves].