At least in the long run. Enough Arizona Republican primary voters bought into John McCain’s immigration conversion to propel him to a landslide victory over J.D. Hayworth. As I’ve argued elsewhere, conservatives will never get the immigration policies they favor if they allow amnesty supporters to sway them with cheap political theater.
Of course, immigration wasn’t the only issue in the McCain-Hayworth primary. McCain spent $21 million brutally attacking Hayworth — so much for campaign finance reform — and hitting him far harder than he ever swung at Barack Obama two years ago. McCain was also able to outflank the earmarking Hayworth on government spending, even though the incumbent was as responsible for the passage of TARP as just about any other single senator. An ideal primary challenger for McCain would have combined Hayworth’s immigration message with Jeff Flake’s consistent fiscal conservatism.
No such challenger emerged. John McCain realized early that he was potentially in trouble and, unlike most of the establishment candidates who’ve faltered this year, he took his opponent seriously enough to attack him early and often. Whether this experience has made McCain take conservatives any more seriously is another story.