My paleoconservative friends, obsessed with battling neoconservatives over Iraq, apparently failed to notice that a substantial share of Iraq hawks parted ways with the Bush administration on immigration. Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin — this just begins the list of those broke ranks over the Bush/McCain open-borders policy.

With Bush gone, McCain defeated, and President Obama inheriting the Commander-in-Chief role, foreign-policy disagreements among conservatives will fade in significance after this election. In seeking a path back to a Republican majority, domestic issues will dominate the debate, and immigration will almost certainly be one of the most important [bold mine-DL]. (For instance, Obama and his allies are likely to insist on a national health-care policy covering illegals.) Open-borders Republicans like Brooks will therefore be increasingly isolated from the GOP mainstream during the Obama administration. ~Robert Stacy McCain

McCain is responding to Dan McCarthy’s post on the main blog, and has a long reflection on the future of the GOP and conservatism that is worth reading.  He is, however, quite wrong when he says that foreign policy differences will fade in significance in the coming years.  To the extent that Obama is relatively hawkish on most things except Iraq, which Republican hawks deny for electoral reasons now but will rediscover once he is in power, we will see exactly the same splits between the hawks who side with the Obama administration’s interventions in (name a few countries where we have no business being) and the conservatives who do not believe these interventions to be in the national interest.  It will be very much like what we saw in the 1990s.  Mainstream, “responsible” and “realist” conservatives and Republicans will support Obama’s actions, and a significant but largely uninfluential minority on the right will protest against them.  All of the bogus arguments war supporters have trotted out for years to justify the Iraq debacle will be turned around on them, and most of them will end up backing the next intervention to halt a “genocide,” “liberate” another country or stop weapons proliferation.  They will delight in the frustration of the antiwar left and praise the bipartisan consensus in favor of American hegemony.      

The ’90s offer a good model for what is going to happen among conservatives during the next few years, as that was the only post-Cold War period under a Democratic President so far, and so we can already tell what the main lines of opposition to Obama will be: 1) he is not hawkish enough; 2) his interventions are too often related to conflicts that have no direct connection to U.S. interests; 3) he is associated with dubious characters and abuses his power.  After years of describing the Iranian regime as a dire threat that must be stopped, hawks on the right are not going to discover prudence and the limits of American power when President Obama announces that military action has become the only remaining option.  On the other hand, if Obama does not pursue such a course of action you can be sure that these same hawks will likewise be ready to frame the Obama administration as being far too weak and too unwilling to project power.  Non-interventionists and more serious realists would oppose a strike on Iran and would cheer an Obama administration that avoided war.  After declaring Russia to be a resurgent menace, Republican hawks are not going to become skeptics of NATO expansion and provocative anti-Russian moves.  Should Obama be persuaded that bringing Ukraine and Georgia into NATO would be folly, expect these hawks to exploit this to show that Obama is willing to “sacrifice” fledgling democracies to Moscow.  Again, non-interventionists and serious realists would be staunchly opposed to expansion and would cheer administration opposition to it.  These divisions will persist and will likely harden, because these differences are not incidental or based solely on views about the invasion of Iraq, but go to the heart of what each camp believes the U.S. government should be doing overseas. 

Certain things will be different from the ’90s, as they would have to be.  First, Obama is genuinely more liberal than Clinton ever was, but he will be presiding over an economic downturn during at least the first two years of his administration instead of the beginning of a recovery, and this could undermine support for an ambitious domestic agenda very easily.  Fiscal and economic realities will constrain his priorities in ways that they did not limit Clinton, but because of these realities his domestic agenda may end up being fairly modest.  To the extent that the misleading claim that the current predicament has demonstrated the flaws of deregulation becomes the conventional wisdom, we are likely to see a large number of conservatives go along with this.  As unpopular as the bailout was, expect to see a split between rank-and-file constituents and conservative elites over this and any additional measures taken by the government in response to the financial crisis.  The base will rail against the expansion of government and betrayal of principle, and the elites will counsel pragmatism.  As is almost always the case, the elites will ultimately prevail and the base will sullenly go along as they always do in the end. 

Immigration policy probably will be one area where most conservatives will agree to some extent, but it may not matter.  On account of the significant reliance on Blue Dogs in the House, it may not be possible for Democratic leaders to push for an immigration bill with any greater success in the future than they did in the past.  Unlike with the bailout, the Speaker will probably not be able to blackmail and bludgeon the minority leadership into capitulating, and Pelosi will have serious problems with defections from conservative Democrats and other freshmen members in competitive districts.  During difficult economic times, it will be especially hard to sell the public on anything remotely resembling an amnesty.  We should also expect divisions among conservatives between supporters of guest-worker programs and thoroughgoing restrictionists.  There will still be a significant number of conservative pundits who will insist that the GOP cannot afford to alienate anyone, and so they will argue against taking up anything resembling a restrictionist position. 

There will be the ritual flagellation from mainstream conservatives, who will be decrying the alleged role of xenophobia and nativism in the ’08 election.  Never mind that there won’t be much evidence for this.  Like the myth that Prop. 187 alienated Hispanics from the GOP in California, this will be widely accepted and propagated as the “smart” interpretation of what ails the GOP.  Instead of concluding that the GOP needs to start actually serving the interests of its constituents, the “smart” conservatives will discover that the party has become too anti-urban and insist that it needs to reach out beyond its suburban and rural core, and they will use Palin as proof of the electoral weakness that comes from relying solely on the base.  For good measure, the knives will be out for social conservatives, just as many tried to make them the scapegoats for the ’06 defeat.

As the election campaign has already shown, the most powerful, widespread opposition to Obama from the right centers around his identity, his associations and what these are supposed to tell us about him.  We can expect constant obsession with Obama’s biography and associations to preoccupy most mainstream conservatives for the next four years, so that the names Raila Odinga and Tony Rezko will become for another rising generation of conservatives what Paula Jones and Mochtar Riady were to mine, which is to say they will become the distractions that will consume most of Obama’s critics and keep them from focusing on more serious problems with his administration (whatever those might turn out to be).