Disconnect on Immigration Between Bush and Calif. GOPers

Los Angeles, Cal. (June 2-5) — There is a severe disconnect between California Republican activists and the Bush Administration over the issue of dealing with illegal immigration. This was the near-universal opinion of grass-roots Republicans and party leaders I spoke to throughout my trip to the Golden State just before the primary June 6th — that while tougher security measures contained in the House immigration bill are critically needed to deal with the thousands of people who illegally cross into the state every day and not the guest worker program for the estimated 11 million illegal aliens in the U.S. strongly favored by the President and now being considered by the Senate.

In winning the much-watched special election for Congress in California’s 50th District (San Diego) June 6th, Republican Brian Bilbray said as much. As he told KOGO radio on election night, "To the Bush Administration, to the Senate flat out: My [Democratic] opponent ran on your ticket on amnesty; I ran against it, on no amnesty. The message ought to be that now, and here, it is the time to take care of this problem. . .What don’t you get about the word ‘illegal?’"

Moderate GOPer Bilbray, in fact, campaigned so fiercely against the guest worker program for illegal aliens that Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.), one of the principal authors of the Senate bill containing the guest worker measure, canceled a fund-raising appearance for him that was scheduled days before the special election.

But the Administration sees it differently. When I asked White House Press Secretary Tony Snow about Bilbray’s claim that his victory was based on opposition to the guest worker measure favored by the Administration, the President’s top spokesman — almost incredibly– replied: "Mr. Bilbray got a smaller percentage of the vote than Republicans got [in that district] for years. So I don’t know whether his position [on immigration] helped or hurt him." [Italics added].

"The base is upset over the President on immigration, and I know — I’m part of the base," Orange County developer Rich Wagner, president of the county’s Lincoln Club [a group of major GOP donors in Orange County] told me during a meeting in his hometown of Tustin. "I’m especially upset my government is not doing anything to protect the Southern border." Wagner added that Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is better than President Bush on the issue because "at least Arnold talks about securing the border."

Wagner, who is active in such community projects as the Lincoln Juarez Opportunity Center to help legal immigrants learn English and develop job skills, pointed out that his county has been "especially hard hit" by the flood of people crossing the border illegally. According to Wagner, "an estimated 40,000 people from Michoacan, the poorest state in Mexico, have come here. President Bush should rail on [Mexican President] Vincente Fox  about how his country has forsaken its own people."

Orange County’s Jon Fleischman, editor of the widely-read, on-line political newsletter Flash Report, told me flatly that the Administration’s stand on illegal immigration is "horrible" for the GOP in California. In his words, "Between its support of amnesty and its support of big government, the Bush Administration does an awful lot to demoralize Republicans out here."

When I asked former State GOP Chairman Shawn Steel if the Administration was out of touch on the illegal immigration with party activists, he replied without hesitation: "Badly. And you hear that phrase, ‘out of touch’, all the time at party meetings. That’s the view of the vast majority of Republicans here and, if it continues, it will be very destructive to us."