LOS ANGELES, Jan. 8 (UPI) -- Despite George W. Bush's deep popularity among Republicans, initial reactions among most conservatives to his far-reaching immigration plan ranged from tepid to scathing.
The president outlined his plan Wednesday in a White House announcement. The administration asked Congress to makes immigrations law changes that would give amnesty to current illegal aliens, allow more foreigners in on open-ended "temporary" worker permits and provide more permanent residency green cards.
The administration's previous immigration trial balloons had been less liberal. For example, in 2001, the benefits would have been restricted to Mexican nationals. The 2004 plan, however, would open up the traditionally high-wage U.S. job market to the entire human race, with no limit on the number of newcomers allowed in.
Veteran Reaganite Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, D-Calif., spoke admiringly to United Press International of Bush's idealism. "I think the proposal reflects the president's personal compassion for the plight of illegal immigrants," he said.
Rohrabacher rejected the notion that the Bush plan was a cynical attempt to gain votes.
"It's not a campaign ploy, it's an act of fairness and compassion," the congressman said.
As evidence of the president's sincerity, he argued that the initiative was, in fact, an obvious vote-loser. "I can't see that it would play well at the polls. I personally don't see this a good for GOP," Rohrabacher said. "The proposal being made will keep wages down and that won't be popular with the American voters."
Rohrabacher suggested Bush is "laying down a marker and wants to get us to discuss it. He's shown where he wants us to go. The president is respected. An issue of this magnitude will be debated seriously."
The congressman made clear, however, what he thought of the merits of the proposal. "Unfortunately, it would have a serious impact on the American people. The long-term impact would be very negative," Rohrabacher said.
Carlos Espinosa, press secretary of Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who heads the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus that strives for tighter controls on immigration, told UPI, "This plan is close to de facto open borders. It's an extremely dangerous idea."
Espinosa called instead for putting the military on the Mexican border. He argued that using unmanned aerial vehicles for patrolling America's southern frontier from on high would provide excellent training for troops destined to police the borders of Iraq to prevent anti-U.S. fighters from slipping in from neighboring countries.
Among conservative pundits, normally a faithful chorus of approval for the president, little enthusiasm was on display. Only a handful, such as David Horowitz, Andrew Sullivan and John Podhoretz, expressed immediate approval.
At the conservative magazine National Review, where support for Bush has normally been staunch, an argument broke out Wednesday among staff writers on National Review's "The Corner" Weblog. Seven journalists attacked Bush's plan and one defended it. British immigrant John Derbyshire blogged in disgust, "There are times when, watching the actions of the Bush administration, I have to grip the arms of my chair, clench my teeth, and mentally repeat 'Afghanistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq, ... ' This is one of those times."
Among the conservative rank-and-file patronizing public Web discussion boards, reactions to the plan were primarily hostile.
On FreeRepublic.com, where Bush is normally spoken of in the most glowing terms, 1,530 messages were posted in reaction to the president's speech. Many were overtly scornful. One read: "Bush has essentially said that he views this nation as a labor market, not as the home of the American people. It is too bad as I had really admired W. He has placed ambition before the country and I fault him for this. He is just another opportunist."
The Web site Lucianne.com is run by noted anti-Clinton partisan Lucianne Goldberg, who played a historic role in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Bush is wildly popular among the site's regular readers, but their comments on Wednesday were largely acidic. In fact, a large proportion of the defenders of Bush's plan were those who claimed that the president was actually cleverly luring illegal aliens out into plain sight, where they could then be rounded up and deported.
Whether Bush's immigration plan justifies conservatives sitting out the November election, voting for a third-party candidate, or, in the ultimate extremity, voting for the Democratic nominee was vigorously debated online. With all the Democratic candidates having previously called for amnesties, however, Bush's campaign adviser Karl Rove has presumably calculated that outraged conservatives have nowhere else to go in 2004.